By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— Brittney Griner and her Phoenix Mercury squad start their playoff march to a possible second consecutive WNBA title Thursday night against the Tulsa Shock. Griner and the Mercury have a good omen on their side.
In 2014, Griner earned WNBA Defensive Player of the Year honors. And hours before game one of the Western Conference semi-finals, she was named the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year.
Griner had an historic season finishing with a league best 105 blocked shots- only the sixth player in WNBA history to record more than 100 blocked shots in a season. She averaged 4.04 blocked shots per game, which catapulted her to the highest average in league history.
The 6-foot- 8 center came riding in to her Thursday press conference on a segway board with a smile on her face and in a relaxed, joking mood.
“I always say this, thank you DB [DeWanna Bonner], I couldn’t do this without DB getting beat all those times and me having to block all those guard shots,” Griner said with a chuckle. “I’m sorry, I’m playing.”
Griner got more serious understanding the accomplishment of winning the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award for two consecutive years.
“I set out this year wanting to get this award and I knew me trying to get this award would help my team- blocking shots, altering shots, it doesn’t do anything but help us,” Griner said. “This doesn’t mean anything until we win a championship. I said that last year and I’m going to say it again. That’s the number one goal, winning a championship. But I am definitely honored to get this award.”
Griner displayed dominance all season long. In fact, her per game average is greater than six other WNBA teams’ blocked shot average. In just 87 games in her professional career with the Mercury, she has surpassed Diana Taurasi for the most blocked shots in franchise history with 315.
But Griner does not rely on the records she holds and the awards she wins to motivate her in practice. Her main goal each and every day is to just keep getting better.
“I just want to get better and just be the best,” Griner said. “It doesn’t matter if I rack these up or don’t rack them up, I am going to strive to be better and go harder.”
She has continued to get better and has relished in her opportunities with the Mercury. Griner’s rookie season included 3 blocked shots a game with 6.3 total rebounds and 12.6 points. Her second year in the league, she averaged 3.8 blocks per game with an improved 8 rebounds a game and 15.6 points. In 2015 she only played in 26 regular season games, but managed 4.04 blocks per game, 8.1 rebounds and 15.1 points per game.
Griner attributes her continued success and improvement to her coaches, and the work they put in before and after games.
“My coaching staff and my team- everyday they push me,” Griner said. “They hold me accountable when I’m slacking or I’m not doing what I need to be doing. They push me everyday. Early practices, before practice- just to work on different things- after practice, I just have to give all the credit to my team.”
But the biggest thing for Griner is her maturity on the court. She has grown as a player. Her knowledge of the game and understanding of head coach Sandy Brondello’s system has translated to a better performance on the court game in and game out.
“Knowing when to go and help, still, sometimes I get a little block hungry, but just knowing when to go and help and when to not go and help, Griner said about her biggest improvement on the defensive end from last season to this season.
With all that Griner has accomplished, she still considers the most important thing to be her team.
“Nothing really changes,” Griner said. “I’m always team first. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. You know, I can’t dribble the ball up the court and pass to myself. That’s always first on my mind- the team. If that means me just blocking shots all night and not scoring, then I’ll do that. I just want to win.”