PHOENIX (AP) – Bracketed by the Phoenix Mercury’s two WNBA championship trophies and her familiar braids, Brittney Griner couldn’t stop smiling as her new bosses and the mayor of Phoenix spoke about her arrival in the desert.
With each bit of praise from Mercury president Amber Cox, coach Corey Gaines and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Griner’s smile seemed to grow bigger, the dimples in her cheeks deepening, her lips peeling back to reveal more and more of her teeth.
Griner is finally a professional basketball player and it’s almost as if she can’t believe it yet.
“It’s exciting to be here, I’m ready to start,” Griner said during her introductory news conference at US Airways Center on Saturday. “I wish I could move in tomorrow and start playing.”
Griner was sensation during her four years at Baylor, a 6-foot-8 center who became the center of attention with her ability to dunk nearly as easily as men. She’s no one-trick talent, though, able to score, swat shots, rebound, dominate games the way few players have in the history over women’s college basketball.
So when Griner finished her career at Baylor, there wasn’t much doubt she’d be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, and the Mercury fulfilled that destiny by calling her name Monday night in Bristol, Conn.
It’s been a whirlwind tour for Griner since then, one that ended with full-house news conference after an early-morning flight to Phoenix on Saturday.
“People are interested in this young lady and the excitement around this team is like nothing I’ve seen in my nine seasons with the Mercury,” Cox said.
Griner has to be pretty pleased with what’s waiting for her in the desert.
In most cases, the team that gets the No. 1 pick in the draft needs plenty of help, stuck in rebuilding mode with a depleted roster.
The Mercury don’t fit that category.
Phoenix has some of the best players in the WNBA, including 2009 league MVP Diana Taurasi, three-time All-Stars Penny Taylor and Candice Dupree, along with super sixth woman DeWanna Bonner.
Injuries caused the Mercury to struggle last year to earn the No. 1 pick and with everyone back healthy, Griner should fit in as just another piece of the puzzle — a big one at that — instead of being counted on to carry a team with less talent.
“It’s a unique situation coming to a team that already has great players,” Griner said. “It’s a situation where I can come in as a sponge and just absorb, just learn from great players. I don’t have to come in and try to do too much, force it. I can just let it come to me.”
The big question about Griner’s arrival in Phoenix is how well she’ll fit into Gaines’ up-tempo style.
Led by Taurasi’s quick decision making, the Mercury have been one of the WNBA’s fastest teams, getting out on the break and scoring in bunches.
Griner’s game since her high school days has been back-to-the-basket, shooting turnarounds, jump hooks or powering her way to the basket for layups and, sometimes, dunks.
A mismatch? No one with the Mercury seems to think so.
“I remember when we first thought we’d maybe have a chance to get Brittney, everyone was saying she wouldn’t fit into our system,” Gaines said. “The system I learned from Paul Westhead, everyone knows is an up-and-down tempo, but it’s funny because the system is really built around a big player, we just never had it. That was the problem and we had to make adjustments … but now we do one and I think she fits our style perfectly.”
Griner certainly doesn’t seem to mind the idea of playing at a faster tempo.
“This girl likes to run,” she said.
Not to mention score, swat shots, dunk, rebound — and smile.
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