After watching Brittney Griner lead the Baylor Lady Bears to college basketball's first ever 40–0 season last year, and becoming college basketball's all-time-leading shot blocker (men's or women's) in January, you might assume the 6' 8" center has been dribbling a ball since she was in diapers. However, Griner grew up more interested in cars and the X Games than slam dunks and blocked shots.
Now a senior, Griner is preparing for another title run when her Lady Bears face Prairie View A&M on Sunday down in Waco, Texas. But before she cuts down the nets again, she took SI Kids on a trip down memory lane, sharing her fondest memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.
By Brittney Griner as told to SI Kids' Christina M. Tapper
I can't remember a time when I wasn't around cars. I was in a diaper, crawling to my dad under the car, seeing what he was up to. When I got older I started to understand the parts and tools better. I'd come in the house with oil all over me. My mom hated that. I was a daddy's girl and loved being out there changing oil and tires with him. My dad wanted to teach me those things so I wouldn't always have to depend on others to fix something. Even now, I'll help a friend out if they have car trouble.
When I wasn't fixing cars, I was outside — climbing trees, riding my go-kart, and playing with my Rottweiler, Rotti. I was never in the house, unlike my older sister Pier. She was playing with Barbies or on the phone while I was in the back of the house playing with my G.I. Joes.
I gave my mom so many scares as a kid. When I was eight, I climbed to the top of a tree near our house. I told my mom to watch me. I climbed to the top and then I fell! Flat on my back. She ran over to me, held me, and asked, "What's your name? When's your birthday?" I couldn't answer all the questions because I had the wind knocked out of me. I went in the house, drank some water, and went back outside. No bumps or bruises.
But I was always terrified of getting in trouble with my dad. He was a cop and was in the military. I remember there was this one time in seventh grade when I was being a class clown. I had the class laughing so hard. My teacher was trying to calm the class down, but I kept going. My teacher warned me that she was going to call home if I didn't stop. I was like, "Okay, call home." I wasn't even thinking about what I was saying. She called home! She reached my dad and then told me, "He wants to talk to you." My whole face went pale. I got on the phone. My dad said only two things: "Oh, you're acting? Wait until you get home." After school I asked the bus driver to take the long way home. I checked the mail to buy some time but then realized I would have to hand it to my dad. So I turned around and put it back into the mailbox. When I finally went in the house, I went straight to my room and started my homework. I had never started homework that early in my life! My dad came into my room and grounded me for two weeks. I learned my lesson.
I didn't start playing sports until the seventh grade. I started with volleyball and soccer. If you were to ask me what I wanted to do before seventh grade I would have said race dirt bikes or four-wheelers. I wanted to compete in the X Games. I was so fascinated by that. I still am.
My freshman year was when I really started growing. When I began ninth grade I was about six-feet tall. When I graduated I was 6' 7", then I grew another inch during that summer before coming to Baylor.
At Nimitz High School there were some coaches who saw me playing volleyball when I was in the ninth grade and told me I should consider basketball. I could jump pretty high. I loved spiking the volleyball. One of the air conditioner workers at my school also helped us in volleyball practice. One day he told me, "Go dunk the volleyball." I went up and dunked. I barely pulled it off, but everyone went crazy.
I quit volleyball after that season and gave basketball a chance. I was so lost. Coach would say, "Set a screen." But I didn't know what a screen was! I played a few junior varsity games before coaches put me on the varsity team. Everybody saw my potential except me. It wasn't until the end of my junior year when I started to think, "Hey, I guess I am pretty good." Early on nothing came naturally. But the more I played, the more I became comfortable. Sometimes it takes awhile to believe in yourself. It's funny to look back and see how far I've come with my game.
Top photograph by Robbie Rogers; Courtesy of Brittney Griner (Volleyball); Kevin Jaira/USA Today Sports/US Presswire (Griner Action)