By DOUG FEINBERG, Associated Press
Baylor junior Brittney Griner is on her way to joining a select group.
The 6-foot-8 phenom was among 21 finalists announced Monday for the U.S. women's basketball team that will compete at the London Olympics.
Griner is looking to become the first college women's basketball player to compete in the Olympics for the U.S. since 1988 when Vicky Bullett (Maryland) and Bridgette Gordon (Tennessee) played.
"Brittney Griner is young, but in some ways her game is somewhat older than she is," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "She brings an element to a team that's impossible to find. You don't find players who are game changers like that. I don't think anyone else in the world has anyone like Brittney Griner."
Griner has led No. 1 Baylor to an undefeated season so far, averaging 22.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 blocks while shooting 61.7 percent from the floor and 80.4 percent from the free throw line. She played for the U.S. on a European training tour in September.
"This past fall when we competed in Europe, I was so proud to wear that USA jersey," Griner said. "I am really excited and honored to be included on the list, it moves me a little bit closer to checking an item off my bucket list."
The 6-foot-8 center joins — among others — WNBA stars Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, all of whom won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games. Other members of that Olympic team who are part of the 2012 pool include Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Kara Lawson, Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter.
The 12-member roster for the Olympics will be chosen this spring. That team will train together for a few days in May before the start of the WNBA season. They will then reconvene in July for two weeks when the WNBA takes a break for the Olympics.
"Getting down to 12 will be an arduous task to say the least," Auriemma said. "I'm not looking forward to be in that room. There will be people left out and it will break your heart not to have them on your team."
Some of Auriemma's former players at UConn could be among those left behind. Seven of the 21 finalists are Huskies, including Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery and Swin Cash.
"I got a very delicate situation here being the coach because I'm trying to step away sometimes and look at it objectively," Auriemma said. "I try to appreciate them as someone looking at it from the outside. I'm amazed at what they've done since they left UConn."
Fortunately for the Hall of Fame coach, the final roster will be decided by the U.S. women's national selection committee.
The U.S. qualified for the London Games by winning the 2010 world championship. All 12 members of that team are finalists for London.
The Americans will be looking to win their fifth straight gold medal. Bird, Catchings and Taurasi also won a gold with the 2004 team. Cash was also on that team.