The American women’s basketball star was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug charges
Evgeniya Belyakova, captain of basketball club UMMC Yekaterinburg, says teammate Brittney Griner had no intention of breaking Russian drug laws when she was arrested earlier this year for smuggling cannabis vaping cartridges in the country.
WNBA star Griner, who represents the Yekaterinburg team in the US offseason, was jailed for nine years by a Russian court last week after being convicted of importing narcotics in February.
Griner’s team argued that the substance was prescribed to him in the United States by a doctor, but remains illegal in Russia.
The 31-year-old, however, says she had no intention of bringing the item with her into the country, telling the court that “there was no intention, i didn’t mean to break the law– and this is a statement that Belyakova agrees with.
“I can’t add anything to what Brittney herself said at trial. Unfortunately, many foreigners who play in Russian basketball clubs do not know our laws. I’m sure Greiner didn’t seek to break the law. I only explain what happened by a combination of circumstances“, she told RIA Novosti.
Speculation remains that Griner may well be freed before the terms of her sentence are fulfilled, with the possibility of a prisoner swap between Russia and the United States.
But every time she goes out, Belyakova supports Griner to become a stronger person.
“It’s a very difficult questionshe said, when asked if Griner could return to the heights of her basketball career if and when she is released.
“Especially since no one knows how long the excommunication will last. Basketball players come back from maternity leave and often play even better.
“Much depends on how Brittney herself views her current situation. She may come back even stronger in basketball, but it is possible that when she leaves, she will devote herself to other things..”
Griner, a former WNBA first draft pick, has represented UMMC Yekaterinburg since 2015 and was joined at the club by Belyakova in 2016.
Belyakova played a single season in the United States in 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks, where she won a WNBA title.
She also represented Russia at the 2012 Olympics and won three EuroBasket Women crowns.
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