PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Mercury open the season at home Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces.
A player who will not be on the bench will be in everyone’s mind: Brittney Griner.
As the Mercury and the rest of the WNBA move forward into the 2022 season, Griner nears three months into custody in Russia, with no timeline for his release.
“We think about her every day,” Mercury goalkeeper Skylar Diggins-Smith said recently. “We love her and we will continue to carry her legacy, her voice and perform in her honor until she comes back here with us.”
Griner was arrested on February 17 after Moscow airport authorities said they found vaping cartridges allegedly containing cannabis-derived oil in her luggage, which could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. . The Biden administration determined Griner was wrongfully detained and had a hearing set for May 19.
The WNBA will honor Griner with a floor sticker with her initials on her No. 42 in league arenas as she continues to be detained.
A 6-foot-9 center, Griner and WNBA career leading scorer Diana Taurasi were key cogs in a Mercury franchise that won the 2014 WNBA title and reached the Finals last season. losing to the Chicago Sky.
Griner is a six-time All-Star and won back-to-back WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2014-15. She had one of the best seasons of her nine-year WNBA career in 2021, leading the WNBA in blocked shots while finishing second in scoring and sixth in rebounding.
Griner was expected to play a key role for the Mercury again this season after the team bolstered its roster with the additions of Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields.
Now Phoenix has to adjust to playing without Griner.
“Once you get the ball bouncing you start whistling, that’s all you really focus on when you’re a competitor,” Mercury first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “In basketball at any time someone could get hurt or something could happen and they wouldn’t be available, and you have to fight with what you have in the moment.”
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