PLAYER OF THE YEAR, TOP DEFENDER:
BRITTNEY GRINER BAYLOR
At the end of the day, Brittney Griner is still 6-foot-8.
She is still a gifted athlete, with the strength of a ox and the wingspan of a pterodactyl.
But want to know what makes her truly unfair for the competition? It’s that she works at her craft, too.
As talented as Griner is, she could loaf through Baylor’s practices and still be one of the most dominant players in the country, much less the Big 12. But that’s not her way.
Griner spends countless hours honing her game, and the end result is that she’s become a player that Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke labeled “the best in the world.”
Griner, an all-American last season as a freshman, targeted a number of specific facets of her game for improvement this year.
“I worked on just being more mobile,” Griner said. “Moving around, dribbling, driving from the top, getting the rebound and pushing it up the floor, giving the team a spark.”
Already a dominant scorer as a freshman, Griner became more efficient as a sophomore, increasing her scoring average by four points to 22.3 points per game and bettering her shooting percentage from 50.3 percent last year to 54.0 this season.
“I think she’s developed an ability to be more under control and not turn the ball over when she’s double and triple-teamed,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “She tried last year to do things too quick. Establish yourself, and pick them apart.”
As unstoppable as Griner can be with the ball in her hands, she is all the more intimidating when the other team has the rock. Mulkey boasts that Griner is one of the few players around who can dominate a game without scoring a point.
Baylor’s opponents would tend to agree.
“There are a lot of post players that can average 21 points a night,” Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “But there isn’t a post in America that dictates that much on defense and limits what you can run and where you can go with the ball.”
Obviously, Griner is a human eraser on the back end of Baylor’s defense, ranking second nationally with 4.4 blocks per game. But beyond that, her mere presence changes how teams attack the Lady Bears, and gives her own teammates more freedom to gamble and take chances.
“It’s a relief for us, but it also helps us put ball pressure on the girls, because we know if they drive past us they’ve got to go over a 6-8 giant,” Melissa Jones said. “That’s real reassuring to us to know if we do get beat, there’s always a better defender behind us.”
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR:
ODYSSEY SIMS BAYLOR
If you want to play point guard for Kim Mulkey, you’d better have thick skin.
Fortunately for Odyssey Sims, she does. What’s more, she also possesses a big heart, a lightning-quick first step and a jump shot softer than a kitten’s sneeze.
But it’s her ability to handle Mulkey’s demands that sets her apart.
“She’s going to have to learn to take it,” said Mulkey, a former point guard at Louisiana Tech. “To whom much is given, much is expected. She’s been given the reins to be the point guard of this basketball team. She’s been given a lot of awards, and she’s been deserving, and with that comes a lot of attention. With that, comes a lot of expectation. I can’t look at the fact that she’s a freshman. We’re trying to win a national championship, and she’s got to be able to handle it.”
Some players can’t handle the heat, but Sims can. She’s never been one to back down from a challenge, and she said she actually craves the way Mulkey pushes and motivates her.
“I knew what I was coming into,” Sims said. “I knew what kind of coach she was, and I think she’s a great coach. So I need somebody like that to push me and stay on me.”
Sims was the No. 1-ranked high school point guard in the country coming out of Irving MacArthur. But entering this season, the assumption was that she would serve an apprenticeship behind incumbent starter Kelli Griffin, especially since Sims was working her way back from offseason knee surgery.
But Griffin departed the program before the season tipped off, and Sims stepped into the spotlight even sooner than expected. Nevertheless, she didn’t wince in its glare, demonstrating herself as a superb scorer, averaging 13.8 points per game — second-best on the Lady Bear team — along with three rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals per night.
With a gorgeous, left-handed rainbow jumper, Sims also led the Big 12 in 3-point percentage (45.0), giving Baylor an added dimension from the perimeter it lacked last season. In an 82-81 win over Oklahoma in late February, Sims was unstoppable from beyond the arc, nailing nine treys on her way to a career-high 37 points.
Naturally, at the very next practice following that game, Mulkey was right back in Sims’ ear, pushing and prodding her confident, young quarterback.
“She gets on me the most, along with maybe BG and MJ,” Sims said. “I’m the point guard, and I have to lead the team. I’m the coach on the floor, so she puts a lot of faith in me. I try my best to do what she asks and not be difficult.”
COACH OF THE YEAR:
KIM MULKEY BAYLOR
The most talented team doesn’t always win the championship.
Kim Mulkey knows that. She’s been around long enough to see all manner of talented teams fall short of the title.
That’s why the veteran Baylor coach won’t stop pushing and challenging her team, easily the most talented she’s had in her 11-year head coaching tenure.
They were the favorites in dozens of games this season. But Mulkey made sure they didn’t act like it, motivating them to play with a perpetual underdog, us-against-the-world mentality.
“I coach with a chip on my shoulder and a fear of failure,” Mulkey said. “And I want them to play with that chip on their shoulder, where I’m this great player, I’ve been talked about, I’ve been ranked, all these accolades have come my way. But you’ve got to make sure you’re afraid to fail. And if you’re afraid to fail, you will improve and you will push yourself.”
And improve Baylor did. After a gut-wrenching 65-64 loss at Connecticut in mid-November, the Lady Bears reeled off 21 wins in a row, most in lopsided fashion. In January, Baylor even supplanted two-time defending national champion UConn as the No. 1 team in the land, giving Mulkey the designation of becoming the only person to have both played on and coached a top-ranked team.
Mulkey will freely admit that coaching athletically gifted, nationally renowned players makes her job easier. Baylor’s roster includes four McDonald’s All-Americans — a vast difference from her first few seasons in Waco at the turn of the century.
“Ten, 11 years ago, we would have not have been able to recruit the Brittney Griners and the Odyssey Simses and the so-called blue-chippers of the world,” Mulkey said. “What got you in those doors was that (2005) national championship. What got you in those doors are my coaches, my recruiting coordinator Damion McKinney. ... It comes in cycles, and it was the championship that allowed us to get in those doors.”
While Baylor is loaded with speed, strength and athleticism, experience is still in short supply. Six of the eight players in the Lady Bears’ regular rotation are underclassmen, and Mulkey said they still have much to learn.
“Their youth challenges me every day, and yet their youth makes me laugh every day,” she said. “And I just have to figure out how to continue to make them better, and yet not beat them down some days. ... It’s just getting a feel for your kids.”
Under Mulkey’s watch, the insanely talented Lady Bears ultimately won not just one championship but two this season, taking both the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles.
Of course, the coach won’t let the players rest until they make it three.
“Everything you did prior to this point, when you get to the NCAA tournament, it means nothing,” Mulkey said. “That’ll be the message to the team. It means nothing.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
TEENA WICKETT TEXAS TECH
Sitting out a year because of NCAA transfer rules is bad enough. For Texas Tech senior Teena Wickett, sitting out two years was absolutely brutal.
A former all-conference player at Pepperdine, Wickett transferred to Texas Tech in 2008. After completing her necessary year off, Wickett was all set to hit the court for the 2009-10 season, but her grades prevented that from happening. Wickett was declared academically ineligible and missed the season.
So she hit the books and regained her eligibility, and finally made her long-awaited debut for the Lady Raiders this season. And Wickett proved more than worth the wait, averaging 10.1 points — tops among all Big 12 newcomers — along with six rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals.
Best of all, she’s on pace to graduate in May.
“When I look up in 10 years, I’m going to know that Teena Wickett was better for being at Texas Tech,” Tech coach Kristy Curry said. “And Texas Tech was better for Teena Wickett being there.”
SIXTH WOMAN OF THE YEAR:
CHUCKY JEFFERY COLORADO
Even in a backup role, Chucky Jeffery performed like a lead singer for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Jeffery started only four Big 12 games, but still distinguished herself as one of the league’s best guards. The 5-foot-10 sophomore ranked among the league leaders in scoring (13.3), rebounding (8.1), and assists (4.2), while leading the league in steals (2.7).
Jeffery showed off her versatility back in nonconference play, when she recorded the second triple-double in Colorado history with 10, points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Loyola (Chicago).
Jeffery was also a clutch performer for a Buffs team that registered the program’s most wins since 2008. With 15 seconds left in the team’s 64-61 win over Nebraska, she broke down the defense and delivered a wrap-around dish to Julie Seabrook for the go-ahead basket.
Tribune-Herald 2010 All-Big 12
Women's Basketball Team
|P||Brittney Griner||Baylor||So||6-8||22.3||7.9||4.4 blocks|
|F||Danielle Adams||Texas A&M||Sr||6-1||23.3||8.5||1.3 blocks|
|G||Melissa Jones||Baylor||Sr||5-11||8.8||6.8||3.7 assts|
|G||Kelsey Bolte||Iowa State||Sr||6-1||16.8||5.1||44.4 3-pt%|
|G||Danielle Robinson||Oklahoma||Sr||5-9||18.4||3.5||4.8 assts|
|Player of the Year: Brittney Griner, Baylor|
|Coach of the Year: Kim Mulkey, Baylor|
|Top defender: Brittney Griner, Baylor|
|Freshman of the Year: Odyssey Sims, Baylor|
|Newcomer of the Year: Teena Wickett, Texas Tech|
|Sixth Woman of the Year: Chucky Jeffery, Colorado|
|P||Carolyn Davis||Kansas||So||6-3||18.0||7.2||65.0 FG%|
|F||Toni Young||Oklahoma St.||So||6-2||14.8||8.8||1.8 steals|
|G||Tyra White||Texas A&M||Jr||6-0||13.8||4.8||1.1 steals|
|G||Lindsey Moore||Nebraska||So||5-9||14.1||3.8||5.9 assts|
|G||Odyssey Sims||Baylor||Fr||5-9||13.8||3.0||45.0 3-pt%|
|P||Vicky McIntyre||Oklahoma State||6-6||11.0||5.5||2.2 blocks|
|F||Jordan Hooper||Nebraska||6-2||14.6||6.6||67 treys|
|G||Chassidy Fussell||Texas||5-10||16.3||5.0||63 treys|
|G||Aaryn Ellenberg||Oklahoma||5-7||16.7||3.5||40.8 3-pt%|
|G||Odyssey Sims||Baylor||5-9||13.8||3.0||1.4 steals|