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Brittney Griner prepares for WNBA regular season return with Phoenix Mercury

Griner is playing competitive basketball again after 10 months in a Russian prison

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury begin their journey to a fourth WNBA championship this weekend with the regular season tip off on Friday in Los Angeles against the Sparks. 

All eyes are going to be on Brittney Griner this season as the Mercury star returns to playing competitive basketball following her release from a Russian prison. Griner returned to the United States in December after a prisoner swap following 10 months in custody.

This weekend, Griner will be playing in her first WNBA regular season games since September 2021. Phoenix’s second-year head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, is cognizant of the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s physical and mental wellbeing as she continues her comeback.

“Our medical staff did a great job of planning her return, physically, but there's a lot of other elements and things that she's experienced,” Nygaard said. “I'm just so grateful every time I see her because we know what she was going through. That’s a miracle that I hold on to. I just want to give her all the love and support that you can that we can as a group to help her get to where she wants to be.”

Griner took the court in Phoenix for the first time since October 2021 when the Mercury hosted the Sparks for a preseason game earlier this month. BG shot two-of-five from the field but hit six of her eight free throws for 10 points in Phoenix’s second exhibition matchup. Griner was candid about her performance in her first game back after an unimaginable ordeal.

“It was good to be back on the home court, back in front of the fans. Knock off some of the cobwebs. Guess there were a few more cobwebs than I thought,” Griner said. “Coach keeps telling me to give myself grace but that’s hard. I was happy with some of the shots that I took but defense? I gotta be better.”

Griner has admitted that the process of getting back to peak form on the court has been challenging. The last time fans got to see her play on U.S. soil, she was competing in the 2021 WNBA Finals. Griner’s teammate, Brianna Turner, used her platform to bring awareness to BG’s situation throughout her detention overseas and now they finally get to take the court together again.

“BG is so competitive. She holds herself to such a high standard. But we all have to remind her, ‘you just got back you haven't played in so long,’” Turner said. “Obviously we’re going to have ups and downs throughout the season as well so really being confident in one another and having each other's back through it all is going to be really key.”

The Mercury organization has been in the spotlight since March 2022, when news first broke of Griner’s arrest at an airport near Moscow. Griner’s ordeal made global headlines, bringing throngs of media from around the world to Phoenix over the last 15 months. Griner is hoping to leverage the additional media coverage to bring awareness to the WNBA and to others who are wrongfully detained overseas.

“Obviously, there's a lot of media presence. But we're just mainly focused on our team and what we can do for this season,” Mercury center Megan Gustafson said, “Obviously, we're also very excited to have BG back and we're going to do everything we can to support her and to welcome her back with open arms.”

The Mercury open their season in Los Angeles on Friday at 7 p.m. with Phoenix’s home opener coming up on Sunday against the Chicago Sky. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. at Footprint Center.

Follow the conversation with Lina Washington on Twitter: @LWashingtonTV. If you have a sports story idea, e-mail Lina at LWashington@12News.com.


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