First thing’s first — Kim Mulkey may be the most entertaining sideline coach in sports. Not just women’s basketball, in sports. Seriously, have you seen her high kicks as she paces in front of the bench, all fired up as her Baylor team plays? If she could be out there running the point, she would. And her Louisiana accent and consistent use of the word “dang” just makes me smile. Heck, when I see coaching in action it makes me want to go out and play for her. And my hooping days (if there were any) have long since passed me by.
Then there’s been the play in the NCAA tournament of Brittney Griner. You remember her — the big girl who threw the punch in a women’s basketball game.
Griner was a YouTube sensation last year as a high school senior since, at 6-foot-8, she routinely would dunk the ball, something not unheard of but still rare in the world of female basketball.
This year, she struggled at times making the transition to the college game. Aside from those in the women’s hoops word, she was invisible. Until that fateful game when her emotions boiled over and she threw a punch.
Remorseful? Yes. Punished? Yes (though the debate will continue as to whether her punishment was enough).
Seeming to come through it all a stronger person?
Well, from afar, it seems like yes.
What makes me smile right now about Griner’s game is that she has elevated her play for the NCAA tournament. Watch her play. While you can’t teach height, which makes things like blocking shots and hitting layups rather easy, height doesn’t automatically translate into a good player. Griner blocks shots with timing and body control. She has a soft touch. She can pass to her teammates. She gets herself open. She rides the nuanced border of physical aggressive play which can be powerful and dangerous.
The only negative comment from my mother (the official basketball aficionado in my family) was that Griner needs to get into the weight room in the offseason. Then again, so does every other freshman basketball player in the country.
But what impresses me most about Griner is that she has been able to play her game, play it well, and develop a chemistry with her talented teammates in the glare of media scrutiny. The only time mainstream media seems to care much about women’s basketball is (a) when there’s a controversy, whether real or invented and (b) at NCAA tournament, if only for a superficial moment.
Griner got the glare from both of those. And yet she seems to be holding herself not just with composure and poise, but with a growing confidence. Perhaps the incident a few weeks ago jump started the maturity process. Perhaps for Griner, her opportunity for redemption came early.
Sometimes when you end up with lemons, you have to find a way to make lemonade.
The emotion of Mulkey coupled with the presence of Griner make Baylor a compelling story line as women’s basketball moves into its Final Four weekend.
There’s something about that energy and excitement and passion that ignites a bit of inspiration through the television and computer screen. Something, too, about being true to yourself regardless of what else is whirling around you.