Brittney Griner left Baylor in 2013 as one of the most decorated athletes in school — not just program — history. But after a decade of strained relations with former coach Kim Mulkey, and subsequently a distance with the university, the legendary center finally will be returning to Waco, Texas, to watch her No. 42 jersey rise to the rafters on Feb. 18.
“I’m honored to return home to Baylor and celebrate where so much of my journey started,” Griner said in a statement released by Baylor. “I’m grateful to Coach Nicki (Collen) and the entire Baylor community and looking forward to the opportunity to be back on campus, spend time with the team and have my family beside me to share in this incredible moment. Sic ‘Em Bears.”
Griner put together a historic college career in her four seasons with the Bears.
It began as a freshman in 2009, when she established herself as one of the most dominant shot blockers in NCAA history. In the process of setting the all-time single-season block record, she recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks in her 10th college game.
The next three seasons saw her make three All-America teams, earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors three straight seasons and take home an AP Player of the Year award and a Final Four Most Outstanding Player honor in 2012 as she powered Baylor to its second national title. The Bears went 40-0 that season.
“We’re excited to have Brittney back on campus and honor her with the retirement of her jersey,” Collen said in a university release. “I have been saying this since I arrived at Baylor that she deserves to have her jersey retired and I wanted to make sure that happened when the timing was right.
“She is one of the best basketball players in Baylor’s history and we’re thrilled that the time has come to celebrate Brittney and all of her accomplishments.”
From Baylor, Griner was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft and has spent much of the past 10 seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, winning the 2014 title and making nine All-Star teams.
Despite finishing her Baylor career in 2013 as the school’s all-time scoring leader and the NCAA’s all-time blocks leader — records she still holds today — the Bears have yet to retire her jersey, despite retiring the numbers of Odyssey Sims, Melissa Jones and Nina Davis in recent years.
A large reason for the delay may be related to relational friction between Griner and Mulkey, the legendary coach who left Baylor after 21 seasons. Mulkey has coached LSU since 2021.
In a book published in 2014, Griner detailed how her relationship with Mulkey was strained late in the 2013 season, a year which ended with Baylor falling to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. Years later, Mulkey refused to address Griner’s detainment in Russia, a situation which garnered international attention.
Prior to her detainment, Griner told ESPN she still loved Baylor and “it would mean a lot” to her to get a jersey retirement.
“I’ve seen that special moment with a lot of my teammates and friends at their schools where they gave their all,” Griner said at the time. “I met my wife at Baylor. Baylor’s in my blood. I love the school. I love Waco. And it would mean a lot to me, honestly. It’s something I would definitely cherish and love.”
While leading the Baylor program, Mulkey had a requirement for a player to have graduated from the school in order to have their jersey retired. Griner returned to the university to finish her degree in 2019.
Neither Griner nor Baylor mentioned Mulkey in the Monday press release announcing Griner’s jersey retirement. Collen, who has led the program the past three seasons, said in October having Griner’s jersey retired was something the program had been wanting.
(Photo: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)