SI College Athlete of the Year nominee: Baylor's Brittney Griner
Kim Mulkey understood what she had in Brittney Griner long before the rest of us. From the time Griner was a still-raw 6-foot-8 freshman, the Baylor women's basketball coach urged everyone not to miss any opportunity to see her play. "There has not been one day or one practice that I take Brittney for granted," Mulkey repeatedly told reporters. "You will never see that kind of player again."
The once-in-a-lifetime player leaves college with a list of accomplishments longer than her 7-4 wingspan. Griner is the first NCAA player -- male or female -- to total 2,000 points and 500 blocked shots. She holds the NCAA record (men's and women's) for blocks with 748 and her 3,269 career points are second alltime in women's basketball behind Jackie Stiles of Missouri State. During Griner's final two seasons, she was 74-2, including an unprecedented 40-0 record and a national championship in 2011-12. During her senior season, she scored 20 or more points in 24 games and 30 or more in 10 games. She won the Wade Trophy and Wooden Award as a junior and senior and for the third straight year was named the WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year. Her numbers for her final season: 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.1 blocks per game and a nation's best 60.7% from the field.
But statistics only tell part of her story: Griner leaves Baylor as the most transformative figure in the history of women's basketball. No player her size has ever possessed similar athleticism. She holds the NCAA career record for dunks during women's competition (18) but here is the context: Only six other women had ever dunked in a college game, and that group had 15 dunks combined.
If comportment matters, Griner is an even bigger winner. A good-natured, fun-loving woman, she lives life on her terms. Griner has been openly gay for some time but in April she acknowledged it publicly with little fanfare. She did so during a group interview with SI Video that included fellow WNBA draft picks Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins. Asked why it's more accepted to be a gay athlete in women's sports than men's, Griner said, "I really couldn't give an answer on why that's so different. Being one that's out, it's just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are."
When a publicist for Griner afterward suggested her client was put on the spot by the interviewer, Griner was the one who quelled the issue. "It's cool," she said, before taking a spin on her long board (Griner is a devout skateboarder; her athletic idol is Tony Hawk) down the second-floor hallway of a Manhattan office building.
Mulkey is right: We won't see her kind again. As a seminal, original figure in her sport, she'd be a worthy recipient for SI's inaugural College Athlete of the Year award.