By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
Brittney Griner’s unparalleled college career is over, earlier than expected and without another NCAA championship. Her place among the all-time best is secure.
From her powerful blocked shots to highlight-reel dunks, Griner’s dominance on both ends of the court was simply unequaled as she drew in new fans to the women’s game. They include LeBron James, who said he met her when she was a senior in high school in Houston and has been keeping tabs on Griner ever since.
“She’s awesome. It’s not fair. It’s like Wilt (Chamberlain),” James said. “She’s out there like Wilt. That’s what would be my imagination, if I was able to see Wilt live and what he was doing to those guys back in the day, that’s what she’s doing to these girls right now. She’s too big. She’s too strong.”
James said he would have loved to see Griner play against Lisa Leslie in her prime.
Griner was floored when told of the praise by her idol.
“Definitely happy for the ‘King’ to say that about me,” she said. “Him being one of my favorite players, for him to compare me to Wilt and Lisa, it’s humbling.”
Griner had one up on Chamberlain as she did win a national championship. She just couldn’t get a second one as the Lady Bears lost to Louisville 82-81 on Sunday night in one of the greatest upsets in women’s NCAA tournament history.
Winning only one title might be the only knock on Griner. Still, many think she belongs on the Mount Rushmore of women’s college basketball with fellow stars like Diana Taurasi, who won three titles at Connecticut. The two will almost surely be teammates in the WNBA since Phoenix has the first pick in the draft in two weeks.
“I can only speak for my era and I didn’t see Anne Donovan, Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers play. But I can’t imagine they were more dominant,” former UConn star Rebecca Lobo said. “To me she’s been the most dominant player and one of the best ever. Since she ended up with just one championship that might change things a little bit on how others view her, but there isn’t a post player I’d want to play against less than her.”
Ever humble, Griner didn’t think she belonged near the top of the list.
“Not me, that’s for sure,” she said. “I don’t know, let’s see what I do in the pros, then we’ll talk about that.”
That’s the next chance we will get to see her.
The Louisville game was the last for Griner and four other Baylor seniors — post players Brooklyn Pope and Destiny Williams, along with Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden, the guards who arrived in Waco with Griner nearly four years ago. Coach Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears could have a much different look without that post presence inside. They will have standout point guard Odyssey Sims back for her senior season, with Alexis Prince and Niya Johnson, who got their first experience as freshmen this season.
Replacing Griner will be impossible.
She is the second all-time scorer in women’s NCAA history, with 3,283 points. She is the top shot blocker ever, shattering both the men’s and women’s college marks with 748. She had 18 dunks; only six other women have ever dunked in a college game and the group had 15 combined.
The Lady Bears went 27-10 her first season, and made it to the Final Four before a national semifinal loss to Connecticut. They are 106-5 since, including a 40-0 mark last season, the first in NCAA history.
“I just feel like I’m adding on,” she said. “I guess you can say I’m changing the defensive end … just because I’m so big and I move. I’m not stationary.
“I want people to look back and be like, ‘Dang, I remember when I played her back in college, she was a game-changer on the defensive end,” Griner added. “I want that to be my mark on the defensive end.”
What sets Griner apart from so many of the other previous stars is her ability to dominate the entire court.
“How many possessions over the course of her career has she influenced on both sides of the court?” ESPN announcer Doris Burke said. “More than any player in history. She’s one of a handful that I’ve witnessed that influence winning to an extraordinary degree.”
On Sunday, Louisville found a way to take Griner out of the equation on defense, matching an NCAA tournament record with 16 3-pointers. A lot of teams had tried that strategy against Griner: Baylor’s opponents, avoiding the paint, averaged nearly 20 3s a game over the course of her career, nearly four more than the year before she came.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who went to Baylor, came to Denver last season and celebrated with the Lady Bears when they won the national championship. He was upset by the loss to Louisville, suggesting Griner was fouled hard and often by Louisville, taking to Twitter to vent his frustrations in support of his beloved team.
Mulkey, who played and coached against some of the best that women’s basketball has had to offer, put Griner at the top of the list.
“I’ve said it many times, I’ve run out of adjectives to describe Brittney Griner,” she said. “Brittney Griner, after winning the national championship last year, should have erased any doubt in people’s minds as the greatest to ever play the game.”