After busy offseason, Griner relieved to be back on court
PHOENIX — Monday’s start of training camp for the Phoenix Mercury couldn’t have arrived soon enough for second-year center Brittney Griner.
After a whirlwind offseason that kept her plenty busy, Griner was eager to get back in the gym and focus on basketball.
"It’s good to be back," Griner said, sitting courtside at US Airways Center after Monday’s practice. "I was bored at home. It was fun being off a little bit, but then it’s like you wake up every day like ‘Shoot, what am I going to do today?’ I was so bored. So I’m happy to be back on the court."
Griner was one of 10 players on the Mercury’s 18-player training camp roster to report Monday. Most of the team’s starting lineup, including Diana Taurasi, is still wrapping up seasons overseas. Even new coach Sandy Brondello hasn’t arrived yet as she finishes out the season as an assistant coach for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, for which Taurasi plays.
Brondello and Taurasi could arrive later in the week, but the players present Monday logged their first practice of the season with assistant coaches Anthony Boone and Julie Hargrove running the show. Once Brondello arrives, the process of adapting to new leadership will truly begin.
Griner said she anticipates an easy transition under Brondello, particularly with the change happening at the start of the season. Last year, the Mercury had to adjust to a new coach midseason when Corey Gaines was replaced by Russ Pennell 21 games into the season.
The Mercury surged after the coaching change, reaching the conference finals, but Griner knows last year’s team didn’t play to its potential.
"We went to the conference finals, we went far, we did OK last year, but it’s not what set out to do," Griner said.
Accordingly, Griner is eagerly anticipating the season opener May 17 to get started on a push toward a championship.
Much of Griner’s time recently has been occupied by her recently released book "In My Skin," which hit shelves early this month. The book, which covers Griner’s experiences with her sexuality, bullying, family and more, led Griner on a small book tour.
"The book tour was cool because it was different," Griner said. "It wasn’t like normal media tours I’ve done. And I got to the (Women’s) Final Four (in Nashville), so that was amazing."
Griner, who came out publicly as lesbian a little more than a year ago, said the reaction she has received since her book debuted has been nothing but positive.
"I’ve heard nothing but good things, honestly," Griner said. "Everybody’s telling me how proud of me they are. My family’s super proud of me. I’ve had kids write me on my Instagram and my Twitter just saying how they couldn’t put the book down, how they loved it. It’s been great."
Before the book’s release, Griner had been playing for Chinese team Zhejiang. In 27 games for Zhejiang, Griner averaged 24.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. Griner says playing overseas gave her the opportunity to fine-tune her skills and build her confidence for the WNBA offseason.
"I worked a little bit here on my hook (shot), but overseas I worked on it a lot," Griner said. "And then my low post game and just working on moves. Instead of having all these crazy moves, I have like six or seven good moves that I just worked on, worked on, worked on."
Once the season ended in late February, Griner spent time with family in Houston before getting started promoting her book. A few days before the book was released, Griner served as grand marshal for the Phoenix Pride parade.
As much as Griner enjoyed all her offseason activities, she’s most content on the court. This year, she hopes to spend more time on it after injuries limited her at times last season.
"I was hurt too much," Griner said. "I’ve got to stay healthy and definitely incorporate a lot of things to keep me on the court, keep my knees good."
Griner says the team’s new strength and conditioning program should help and that it reminds her of her routine at Baylor, where she was healthy through her four seasons.
Though team dynamics and roles may be better defined once the entire team and coach are present, Griner says it’s clear now expectations are to get off to a better start and build on the momentum created late last season.
"We don’t want to go through what we went through that first half of the season," Griner said. "We definitely don’t want to do that, so we’re not going to go backwards. We’re going to learn from our mistakes last year and move forward."