Brittney Griner continues to set new standard in women’s basketball

OPINION - Brittney Griner is poised to join the WNBA, a league that has long been hoping to get noticed by the general sports fan...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Last weekend’s slate of college basketball games gave us one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

Wichita State, a No. 9 seed, earned its first Final Four appearance since 1965…but that wasn’t it. Syracuse made an Indiana team with NBA talent on its roster look foolish, but that wasn’t it either. And as exciting as Michigan’s comeback against Kansas was, that upset wasn’t even close to the biggest one of the weekend.

The biggest upset came on Sunday. While Louisville and Michigan were rolling to double-digit victories, the real drama was happening in the women’s bracket. The Louisville women’s 82-81 upset over a Brittney-Griner-led Baylor team was one of the biggest upsets we’ve seen, and will see, in a long time. And that’s because Brittney Griner is one of the most dominant college players – male or female – we’ve ever seen.

Baylor had won 32 straight games up unto that point, and 74 of their last 75 behind Griner’s play. Griner was averaging 35 points per game in the tournament, and it appeared she would be taking her Baylor team to back-to-back NCAA women’s titles.

An extraordinary talent

The defeat to Louisville ends a successful and storied career for Griner. She changed the way we look at women’s basketball, and her name should be mentioned with names like Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and Lew Alcindor as the best college players ever. She’s that good.

Her numbers and accolades are comically impressive. Her 736 career blocks are a record for both men’s and women’s college basketball. Her per game averages of 24 points, 9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 4 blocks put her in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar territory. She’s a two-time first team All-American (likely to be three), four-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, three time Big 12 Player of the Year, and an AP Division I player of the Year, which she’ll probably win again this year.

Standing at 6-foot-8-inches, and possessing an 88 inch wingspan, she’s far from a typical women’s basketball player. Griner resembles the modern men’s player; she plays above the rim and overpowers her opponents. You won’t see dunking in a women’s game — unless you watch Griner, who has taken the allure away from female dunking by doing it so often. She dunked three times in her final home game alone.

She’s not quite a household name, but Griner does possess great crossover appeal, as several fans that know little about women’s basketball still know who she is. Sunday’s upset drew the highest television rating of a Regional Semifinal in three years, and last year’s women’s championship game featuring an undefeated Baylor team had the highest television rating since 2004.

Future WNBA superstar 

Griner’s now poised to join the WNBA, which is a league that has long been hoping to get noticed by the general sports fan. For the first time ever, ESPN is televising this year’s WNBA draft, and the network just extended its WNBA contract through 2022. Part of the reason, according to Fortune, is ESPN is looking to market players like Griner for years to come:

To draw in more fans, ESPN and the WNBA are launching a “3 to See” campaign, which is capitalizing on the stories of three soon-to-be WNBA players — focusing on their transition from college to the pros. The “3 to see” are Elena Delle Donne from Delaware, Skylar Diggins from Notre Dame, and Baylor’s Brittney Griner. Baylor player Griner stands out… Griner stands at a towering 6’8″, and she’s young. She doesn’t bring the marketing triple threat of someone like Candace Parker, who is a model, mom, and athlete. But she’s damn good. Hopefully, that will be enough.

Griner has proven that the right female player can command attention from the general public. She’s exciting, dominant, and one of the greatest we’ll ever see. And while the men’s tournament will get most of the attention, it’s important we take the time to appreciate the career of one of the game’s best.

Griner’s play over her four-year career already cements her as one of the best ever. But her ability to garner attention in a sport dominated by male stars…that may be the biggest upset of all.

Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace