Long before Brittney Griner was swatting away shots for top-ranked Baylor, there was another 6-foot-8 women’s college player getting blocks at a record pace.
Anne Donovan was a dominating center for Old Dominion three decades ago with 801 blocks, more than Griner’s NCAA-recognized record for men or women of 736 — and counting.
That was in a much different era of women’s basketball.
“It’s so funny. Every time they post her shot-block record I get a lot of phone calls,” said Donovan, who averaged. 5.9 blocks in her 136 career games. “The AIAW is a whole lot different than the NCAA today.”
Donovan was part of the Lady Monarchs’ AIAW national title as a freshman in 1980, before they finished third in that tournament the next year. She played 73 games under the AIAW classification, and 63 more after that including the first two NCAA tournaments, with a Final Four appearance as the host team during Donovan’s senior season.
Baylor has already been to the NCAA Final Four twice in Griner’s career. The defending national champion Lady Bears (32-1) will surely be the No. 1 overall seed again in the NCAA tournament for her senior season, and are set to host first- and second-round games starting March 24.
A chance for Griner to add a few more blocks, some more points and rebounds and maybe even another dunk or two.
With no more than six games left, Griner is 65 blocks short of Donovan’s mark. Any chance of matching her?
“I don’t know about that. Maybe. Probably not,” Griner said. “I’d have to do some crazy stuff.”
Griner would have to dou
ble her career average of 5.1 blocks per game in the NCAA tournament, assuming the Lady Bears got to the national title game.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Donovan were teammates on the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in 1984, a year after their college teams faced each other in an NCAA national semifinal game — Old Dominion lost to Louisiana Tech and Mulkey, then a pigtailed point guard.
“They’re both tall. That’s the comparison,” Mulkey said of her current star player and former Olympic teammate. “Brittney is just so athletic going up and down the floor. Anne was one of the tallest and most talented players during her era, when we played in the ’80s. . . . But I don’t know that you can compare the two. Other than height, their games were not really, I would say, alike.”
Donovan, who is leaving Seton Hall after three years as the women’s coach to return to the WNBA as coach of the Connecticut Sun, certainly agrees.
“She’s going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. She’s super talented and it’s not just about the blocks with her,” Donovan said with a smile adding, “I can tell you I never had a dunk in the game.”
Along with all those blocks, Griner has 14 career dunks. To put that in perspective, the six other women who have dunked in an NCAA game had a combined 15 dunks.
In her last regular-season home game, Griner had a dunk along with her Big 12 single-game record 50 points. Donovan’s career high was also 50 points.
Griner is the Big 12’s career scoring leader with 3,203 points (22.1 per game), though that is actually second in Baylor history behind the 3,861 that Suzie Snider Eppers had from 1973-77, again in the AIAW era. Griner is second on the NCAA scoring list, 190 short of mark held by Jackie Stiles of then-Southwest Missouri State.
Still, the blocks are what excite Griner.
“Even when I first started playing, that was the case,” said Griner, who didn’t start playing organized basketball until she was in ninth grade. “I love blocked shots. ... Definitely, that’s the one (record) I care about the most.”
She got her 664th block Jan. 26 against Oklahoma, surpassing the NCAA record that had been held by Louella Tomlinson for St. Mary’s in California from 2007-11.
When asked, Mulkey said there is no way to quantify the difference between the blocks by Griner and Donovan.
“It’s like comparing your children, you can’t really,” Mulkey said. “Just different rules, different era. I don’t know how you can. . . . I was part of the AIAW myself, so I’m sensitive to that era as well, and I recognize that.”
Well, what about when they were still playing, did Mulkey ever have a shot blocked by Donovan?
“I don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t remember that far back,” Mulkey said. “I was probably smart enough not to shoot it around her.”