Future Connecticut Sun Forward Kelsey Griffin Makes USA Debut In Hartford
April 17, 2010 - Hartford, Conn.
Any basketball fan who hadn't heard of Kelsey Griffin prior to 2009-10 certainly knew who she was by the time March Madness rolled around. In her senior year, the 6-2 forward from Eagle River, Alaska, averaged a team-high 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game to lead the University of Nebraska to its first Big 12 regular season title with a perfect 16-0 slate, the program's first NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance and a 32-2 overall record, including a 30-0 streak to start the season.
Despite all that, Griffin said she was overwhelmed with emotion and joy when her head coach, Connie Yori, passed along an invitation from USA Basketball to attend the 2010 USA Women's Select Team training camp this week in Hartford and Storrs, Conn.
'I actually started crying I was so happy,' Griffin said. 'I was so excited. I didn't really know if I'd ever get this opportunity. It's something that I had always dreamed about, but I didn't really know how to go about getting there. So, when my coach told me, she pulled me aside, and I just started crying I was so happy.'
A finalist for a number of national player of the year honors, including the 2010 State Farm Wade Trophy, Naismith and John R. Wooden Awards, one might be surprised by such a humble reaction, but Griffin said playing for the red, white and blue had been a longtime dream of hers and, more recently, a goal as well.
'In between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I went to Pete Newell's Tall Girl Camp, and that is where I first heard about USA Basketball,' Griffin remembered. 'They named a few names, and I can't remember them, but I knew they were very elite players, and talked about USA Basketball. I was nowhere in that realm at the time. Playing for my country was always something I wanted, but I didn't know if I'd ever reach that level.'
After successful seasons as a freshman (2006 WNIT quarterfinals and a 19-13 record), sophomore (2007 NCAA Tournament appearance and 22-10 record) and junior (2008 NCAA Tournament second round and a 21-12 record), Griffin was sidelined by not one, but two surgeries on her foot and was granted a medical redshirt for 2008-09.
'Having to sit out because I was injured taught me about the coaching aspect of the game,' she said. 'I didn't quite understand what all went into coaching. When you are playing and just playing, I think you can be really self-centered in that you think coaches are nagging on you or focused on the negatives. But sitting out and watching an entire practice develop and see drills develop and how things carry over, I think really helped me mentally to understand what the coaches were trying to get out of practices. And so then I could be a better leader because I knew those expectations better because I observed them.'
Griffin hit the court for her senior year in 2009-10 with vengeance. After averaging impressive numbers in her first three seasons, her points per game jumped from 15.3 as a junior to 20.2 in 2009-10. Her rebounding improved as well, going from 7.2 in 2007-08 to 10.4 this past year. She owns Husker records for single-season (189-250) and career (246-773) free throws made and attempted, and ranks second among all-time double-doubles (38), third for points (2,000) and rebounds (993) and seventh for scoring average (16.0 ppg.) and blocked shots (90).
'The great thing about my senior year is we won games as a team, and we had so much fun doing it,' Griffin said. 'I know winning helps you to have fun, but even before we were playing games, my team was having a blast practicing together and conditioning together. Even more so than our record, our chemistry and how much we enjoyed being around each other was the real story of this year. As far as being able to mentally prepare ourselves after every win, as the pressure built, we just knew that we were trying to get better. We didn't look at our record. We just wanted to continue to get better because we knew that's what we needed in order to be successful.'
The 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year, Lowe's Senior CLASS Award winner, and U.S. Basketball Writer's Association All-American, Griffin said she was proud to have helped put Nebraska women's basketball on the radar in a state traditionally dominated by football.
'The state got behind us,' she said. 'It wasn't even just the city of Lincoln, it was the entire state. For women's basketball to be talked about in Nebraska households is a big deal because we are definitely a football school. The fact that a women's sport and women's basketball was such a high priority for so many people was great, and the fan support was awesome. I hope they know by now how big of a part they played in our success.'
On April 6, Griffin was the No. 3 pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx and was traded to the Connecticut Sun the same day.
'The draft definitely was a whirlwind,' she said. 'It was so intense but at the same time so great. To go number three, I never would have imagined, ever, ever. When people say that, I'm still shocked by it. Then to be traded, that Connecticut would make those trades and exchanges to get me was very flattering. I'm really excited to play for that coaching staff. They are a great group, and I think I'm going to learn a lot from them. As far as draft day itself, it was just a whirlwind of emotions. I was so thankful after the final pick was over, so that I could know where I was going and start this new part of my life.'
Though she has been in Connecticut a few times before, including this week for USA Basketball training camp, Griffin admits she still has a lot to do before the WNBA season kicks off in just a few short weeks.
'I really have just been here in Hartford and Storrs,' Griffin admitted. 'After the draft, we went down to Mohegan Sun, so I got to see the casino. The court wasn't set up, but I got to see where we will play. I didn't really see the apartment area or where I'd be living. But the fan support will be awesome. I think Connecticut fans are great. From what I hear and what I was able to see at the Final Four, I'm excited to play here.'
She might not have preparations such as housing in order yet, but Griffin certainly has been preparing her game this past week.
'This week has been great,' she said. 'I think training camp has really helped me to understand the level and the expectations of what it's like to play in the league and against some of the best players in the world. It's helped to remind me that I'm a great player, but I'm going to be competing against other great players. So to remember that everyone in the WNBA comes from a team where they were the best player and to keep that in mind, has helped me to feel out my role with the Select Team and to get an idea of what my role in Connecticut will be. At the same time, I have to stay true to myself and true to my strengths because that is what got me here.
'I have been playing a lot of the wing spot here in training camp, so obviously my ball-handling is something I want to work more on. I will be playing against quicker players, working on my passing and just getting comfortable in that spot. I know that I can play it, but it will be a transition.'
Griffin will get another chance to experience Connecticut fans this Sunday, April 18 as the USA Women's National Team takes on the USA Select Team in a Red-White exhibition scrimmage at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Tickets for the Red-White contest, which will be played at 12:30 p.m. (EDT), are available online at www.ticketmaster.com, through Ticketmaster charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000 and in person at the XL Center box office. Seating for the scrimmage will be general admission and all tickets are $10 (other fees may apply).
'I'm so excited for the scrimmage tomorrow,' Griffin said. 'I haven't taken my sweats off since I've been here because I love looking down and seeing USA on my chest. To be playing in front of fans will be great, but this whole experience has been great. I'm excited to come to practice, I'm excited to scrimmage and I know the real scrimmage in front of fans on Sunday will be nothing less.'