Back from Russia, Griner sets sight on title, MVP

By BOB BAUM

AP Sports Writer

PHOENIX (AP) Brittney Griner is back from Russia and ready to go, with her eye on an MVP trophy and a WNBA championship.

The 6-foot-9 center, who has 10 of the 13 regular-season dunks recorded in the WNBA and is a four-time league All-Star, enters her sixth season in the league, and she says she's a long way from that lanky kid from Baylor who arrived for her first Phoenix Mercury training camp in 2013.

"Oh man, when I first walked in here I was green-eyed and, I don't know, thought the world as unicorns," Griner said on Thursday as the Mercury prepared to open training camp. "Now I've just grown up, grown into a better player."

Statistically, last year was Griner's best.

She became the first true center to lead the WNBA in scoring with a career-high 21.9 points per game, shooting 57 percent from the field. Her 2.5 blocks per game also led the league. A two-time WNBA defensive player of the year, Griner averaged 7.6 rebounds and shot 81 percent from the foul line.

She had a league-best six 30-point games last year, including a 38-point performance in early June that was the highest-scoring game in the WNBA last season.

She figures she's still a ways from her ceiling.

"I don't know. I never keep the cup filled," Griner said, "so I'm going to try to keep working on stuff, even as I get older."

Well, Griner isn't exactly approaching rocking chair age.

She's 27 and entering what usually is a basketball player's prime.

"Before practice, just working on new things," Griner said. "You see NBA guys do something and it's like `Hey, let me try that.' People guarding you, the move you normally do, so you have to try to stay on your toes and try something different."

Griner already holds WNBA records for blocks in a game (11), blocks in a season (129), blocks per game in a season (4.04) and blocks in a playoff game (11).

Her game was the same last season for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, where she helped her team win the EuroLeague and Russian titles. The difference between the game in Russia and the WNBA is minimal. It's mostly the same people, she explained, although the players are well-treated.

"It's just easy. They make it easy," he said. "The team over there, they make it as easy as you can make it. They take care of everything, car, translator, flying private. It's nice. It's like the NBA."

It might be different elsewhere, but Griner said the Mercury treat her just fine, too.

The 6-foot-8 center, who has 10 of the 13 regular-season dunks recorded in the WNBA and is a four-time league All-Star, enters her sixth season in the league, and she says she's a long way from that lanky kid from Baylor who arrived for her first Phoenix Mercury training camp in 2013.

And playing overseas, as well as in the WNBA, is a necessity if a woman wants to make any money playing the game.

"Got to play year-round," she said. "Got to make it. It can't be there forever, so you've got to make it where you can."

Griner said he loves all the changes the Mercury has made.

"Man, we're loaded," she said. "They went down the list and had everything we needed they just checked off the list and got it."

Griner might have won the MVP had she not been sidelined for knee and ankle injuries sidelined her for eight games.

She has her eye on that MVP trophy now, though. No doubt about it.

"It would be nice to get one of those on the resume," she said.

Updated May 10, 2018