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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Gives Advice to Caitlin Clark (Exclusive)

With Caitlin Clark already making waves (and benching) as the Indiana Fever’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, a player who has been in her position offers words of support — and a word of warning.

“The hype that Caitlin and some others have right now is amazing for the league,” says Brittney Griner, 33, who details her 10-month Russian detention in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “There is good talent coming in.”

Griner, who recently re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury, the team she spent 10 seasons with after becoming their No. 1 overall pick in 2013, understands the hype that comes with being considered a “generational player.” The 6-foot-1 center was already throwing down thunderous dunks as an 18-year-old high school student in Houston, Texas. (She dunked 52 times in 32 games and went viral in the process.) As the No. 1 high school prospect in the country, Griner committed to Baylor University, where she was a three-time All-American and an AP player from the year. , an NCAA National Champion and a 2012 ESPY winner for Best Female Athlete.

Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected with the first overall pick by the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.

Sarah Stier/Getty

Despite the accolades, Griner remembers a difficult transition to the next level. “It’s different when you go from college to the pros,” Griner said of what awaits Clark and others in the WNBA. “I went from top dog to my numbers dropping a little bit. You’re competing against grown women. This is how they feed their families. This is not just for the love of the (game). This is their livelihood.”

WNBA President Laurel Richie poses with Brittney Griner after being drafted number one overall by the Phoenix Mercury during the 2013 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm on April 15, 2013 at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty

Griner, who calls her 2013 rookie season an “eye-opener,” says the 22-year-old Clark will have to adjust her game to account for the tougher competition. “I had to get stronger, lock in a little more. There will be some growing pains for her, but she will be fine.”

She admits she has been following the NCAA Women’s Championship closely, and has done just that was not rooting for Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes – no disrespect intended. Coincidentally, Griner’s longtime friend, mentor and former Team USA coach, Dawn Staley, is the current coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, who defeated Iowa in the final game on April 7.

“I saw (Staley) at the Final Four, right before the National Championship. I told her, ‘Go get it. That’s yours.’ I just knew South Carolina would win. The way Dawn prepares – I’ve said it so many times – the way she prepares those young ladies for basketball, but also prepares them for life…. She really cares about how they grow as people and grow in society. It’s amazing what she does.”

South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley is showered with confetti after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 87-75 during the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game between Iowa and South Carolina at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 7, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Thien-An Truong/ISI Photos/Getty

Griner thanks Staley in her memoir, Coming home, for the work she did to keep her in the public consciousness during her Russian detention. “When I was in Russia, my biggest fear was that I would be forgotten,” she wrote in the acknowledgments. “Thank you for reminding the world of me every day on social media. You spoke my name to anyone who would listen. You too your visit is forfeited to the White House to arrange for my wife (Cherelle Griner) to meet with President Biden. You are a strength and a friend.”

The Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever meet for the first time this season on June 30, potentially putting Clark and Griner on the field at the same time. By then, the two could also be teammates on Team USA; the selection committee will announce the final selection of twelve women at the beginning of the summer. Griner, a two-time veteran, should be a lock. And Clark, while still young, might prove too good to be denied a spot.

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury shoots the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 9, 2023 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty

Whether it’s in the Olympics or in the WNBA, Griner says she still has more to prove, but she’ll be honest with herself when the time comes to wrap up her stellar career.

“I always said I played until the wheels fell off,” she says. “But if I can’t produce the way I want, I hang it up. I don’t want to push the boundaries or hold the team back. If I can’t handle them anymore, I’ll retire. Whatever number (seasons) that is.”

Griner’s memoirs, Coming homestarring Michelle Burford, is available now.