No hard feelings after fight? Kristine Anigwe is ‘cool’ with Brittney Griner
Kristine Anigwe can’t quite find the words. When asked about her involvement in a fight last year with Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, the Sparks forward tries to play down the lowlight of her mostly forgettable rookie season. She cycles through platitudes in an effort to get through an answer and then is reduced to awkward laughing.
“We’re cool,” Anigwe said while trying to smile away her clear discomfort.
As they prepare to meet again in Saturday’s season opener, Anigwe and Griner have apparently squashed any issues stemming from their on-court fight last year. The players tangled arms under the basket during a game Aug. 10, and Anigwe, then with the Dallas Wings, appeared to pull on Griner’s arm and took what the WNBA called “an open-handed swing” at the Mercury center. Griner then threw punches and chased Anigwe before being restrained by teammates. Six players were suspended or fined for the incident, with Anigwe sitting for two games and Griner for three.
During the offseason, the pair connected to clear the air. Anigwe, who went to high school in the Phoenix area, worked out with Griner, playing five-on-five basketball on the same team. Griner posted a photo to her Instagram story as an official olive branch.
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“We definitely talked,” Griner told reporters this week. “There’s no bad blood. Tempers fly, it’s the game. But everything is good.”
For Anigwe, the altercation remains the most noteworthy event in her young WNBA career thus far. Her rookie season started as the No. 9 overall pick of the Connecticut Sun, but ended in Dallas after a midseason trade. She finished with a modest 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, averaging just 9.3 minutes.
Anigwe soon became expendable for the Wings, who drafted another versatile forward in Satou Sabally, second overall in April. The Sparks traded for Anigwe at the deadline before finalizing their roster this season.
Having already played with three teams before beginning her second season in the league, Anigwe is determined to make the most of this chance. She peppers her teammates with questions. Head coach Derek Fisher called her “the prototypical basketball sponge,” wanting to watch film at all hours of the day, asking for extra time to shoot and working with Sparks star Candace Parker at practice every day.
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“What we’re really trying to do as much as possible, with Kristine and all of our players that are new to our group especially, is to give them enough information to provide a foundation but not take away their natural gifts and abilities and talents that already exist,” Fisher said. “I think that’s important for all basketball players and possibly Kristine more than anybody on our team, because of how gifted she is without you telling her to do anything.”
Anigwe showed her talent in college at California, where she averaged 22.3 points and 16.2 rebounds per game as a senior and was named Naismith defensive player of the year. While dominating the Pac-12, she struck up a friendship with Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike, a former Stanford star. Anigwe looked forward to playing alongside Ogwumike this season, but that will have to wait as the veteran forward opted out of the WNBA bubble due to medical concerns.
Anigwe said she looked up to Ogwumike because their games were similar. Now in need of a replacement for Ogwumike off the bench, the Sparks hope that comparison proves apt.
“When I realized she wasn’t going to be there, I was like OK, I need to get better,” Anigwe said. “I’m not going to have that shoulder to lean on so I put it on myself.”
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