Brittney Griner returns as Olympic finalist, this time without fear

Brittney Griner
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Brittney Griner unfurled from her vacation hammock in Cabo San Lucas last week to fly into snowy Storrs, Conn., and a three-day training camp for U.S. Olympic team finalists.

The towering center was not warmly received by all.

“Got my shot blocked a couple of times out here with the guys,” Griner said Tuesday, laughing, of male practice players, typical partners for elite-level women’s workouts. “It only counts when it happens in a game. This doesn’t count, so it’s cool.”

Griner was then asked the last time she was blocked in a game that does count.

She paused a few seconds, determined her answer, stared down at the reporter and delivered a deep pitch.

“B.G. doesn’t get blocked,” Griner boomed, paused again and then briefly chuckled and grinned.

Griner, at 6 feet, 8 inches, was three inches taller than the next-biggest player among 16 in red Team USA jerseys at the University of Connecticut practice facility.

She is the can’t-miss of the 25 finalists overall to make the U.S. Olympic team, not only for her unmistakable presence but also for her story. The narrative is highlighted by but not limited to her decision four years ago to pull her name out of Olympic team consideration while a Baylor University junior.

Sixteen Rio Olympic hopefuls took part in two-hour practices on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, led by UConn and Olympic coach Geno Auriemma and overseen by USA Basketball officials who will choose the 12-woman team later this year to go to Brazil.

Nine of the 25 finalists missed the camp for various reasons, including injuries and professional seasons overseas. It’s expected to be the final camp before the team is named for the Olympics, where the U.S. will seek its sixth straight gold medal.

Griner wore No. 23 and defended her paint in a one-year-old practice gym, surrounded by a combined 36 UConn banners adorning three of the four walls — 10 NCAA titles, eight Olympic gold medalists, eight NCAA Players of the Year and 10 first-team All-Americans (not counting the NCAA Players of the Year).

She wasn’t intimidated.

“I definitely feel a lot more confident this go-around, at a different place [than 2012],” Griner said at the end of the camp. “I hate sounding cocky, but I just feel like I should be here. It feels right.”

Griner had the chance four years ago to become the first college basketball player to make a U.S. Olympic team since 1988.

On March 30, 2012, USA Basketball announced 11 of the 12 players for the London Olympic team. Griner, leading undefeated Baylor into the Final Four at the time, wasn’t one of the 11. But she was seen as a candidate to be named to the team after Baylor won the NCAA title four days later.

Before the 12th player was named, Griner announced on April 19 her withdrawal from Olympic team consideration due to a family illness (she later said her mother had been diagnosed with lupus two years earlier) and her summer school schedule.

Griner said Tuesday that a “fear of being away from what was going on at home” was on her mind before she withdrew.

“That was a hard decision,” she said. “Sitting there, just missing out, just, like, dang, I wish I was there. That feeling. Hopefully, this time I get a chance.”

Griner watched the U.S.’ 86-50 rout of France in the London Olympic gold-medal game on a computer screen in her bed.

“I’m kind of lazy,” she said. “I lay in the bed a lot.”

Griner joined the WNBA one year later and the U.S. national team for the next major tournament — the World Championship in 2014.

At Worlds in Turkey, Griner started all six games with four former UConn stars — Sue BirdDiana TaurasiMaya Moore and Tina Charles — who were four of the primary starters at the 2012 Olympics. When they huddled, the coach delivering instructions was UConn’s Auriemma.

“The UConn squad,” joked Griner, who wore glasses at Worlds after suffering an eye injury in the WNBA Finals.

Griner ranked second on the team per game in points (12.3) and rebounds (6.2) and blocked two shots per game while averaging 19 minutes per contest (sixth on the team).

She also bumped chests and shared technical fouls in a tense moment with Spain forward Laura Nicholls in the third quarter of the final.

“Somebody stares at me, I’m not going to back down,” said Griner, listed five inches taller than Nicholls.

That’s the type of presence Auriemma stressed on Griner as she’s dug into international basketball — both professionally and for her country — the last two years.

“I’m always after Brittney to, you know, you’ve got be tougher, you’ve got be stronger, you’ve got to be more aggressive, you’ve got to be more assertive, because there’s no give when you’re playing in the Olympics,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes when I think you’re a big kid in women’s basketball, you’re kind of a little bit reluctant to be. Little by little, she’s starting to understand that we need her physical presence to be dominant — to be dominant.”

U.S. national team director Carol Callan said she’s known Griner since she was a dunking Houston high school phenom.

Since London, Callan said she’s had more conversations with Griner than the older national team veterans.

“I’m just thrilled that we got her into the World Championship, and she got some experience there,” Callan said. “Now this [the Olympics] is another step on that stage, but it’s not as big a step because she had that transition World Championship year.”

In September, Griner was suspended for a portion of a USA Basketball European training camp due to a domestic violence arrest.

“Brittney, with her struggles a year ago, she’s, as they all are, valuable to us, and we just like to check in and make sure things are OK all along the way,” Callan said.

At the end of the Connecticut camp, Griner was largely jocular during a five-minute interview. Even when looking ahead to a possible appearance at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“I heard it’s a really long walk,” Griner said of marching in the Parade of Nations. “I’ve got to get ready for that one. Get some stretch on, some Icy Hot.”

MORE: Auriemma: UConn ‘wouldn’t make it at the Olympics’

2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek set French Open rematch

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she plays Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays the top seed Swiatek, who later Monday advanced after 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko retired down 5-1 after taking a medical timeout due to illness.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world. Gauff said last week that there’s no point in revisiting last year’s final — a 6-1, 6-3 affair — but said Monday that she should rewatch that match because they haven’t met on clay since.

“I don’t want to make the final my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “Since last year I have been wanting to play her, especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well, and she was going to do well.

“The way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve, and I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

In the men’s draw, 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud reached the quarterfinals by beating 35th-ranked Chilean Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. He’ll next play sixth seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7) winner over 23rd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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