In February, Brittney Griner officially re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury after missing the entire 2022 WNBA season due to a 10-month detainment in Russia.
Griner likely did not know what to expect once this season began after she had been away from basketball for so long. She has had a strong season so far and was named a WNBA All-Star starter, averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots for the Mercury.
Ahead of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Griner revealed that her level of play was a pleasant surprise.
“I just wanted to get out there and try my best not to get hurt, give it the best I’ve got,” Griner said. “I was a little shocked, actually, how it was once I got on the court, so I’m happy with it.”
Griner also acknowledge that she faced an uphill battle when she returned to basketball, but credited hard work and determination with putting her in a position to play the game at a high level.
“It was definitely a tough road. A lot of long, hard hours in the gym and in the weight room to get back into it,” she said.
BRITTNEY GRINER CALLS AIRPORT HARASSMENT INCIDENT ‘ROCK BOTTOM’ FOR WNBA
Griner was arrested Feb. 17, 2022, on drug charges at an airport near Moscow. She was released Dec. 8 after the U.S. government agreed to a prisoner swap.
The WNBA kept Griner top of mind while she was being held in Russia, putting her initials and jersey number on each court. She also was made an honorary starter at last year’s All-Star Game.
The 32-year-old Griner will play for Team Stewart during Saturday’s game at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
“It’s really inspiring to see what she’s doing and the way that she carries herself,” said team captain Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty.
“It’s like, she was gone for 10 months, but she still acts and carries herself the same way. The strength she has to do that is something that I definitely admire. And the way that she’s able to be a force on the court, she’s one of one, and we’re happy that she’s back with us.”
Griner said she not only didn’t think she would be at this year’s All-Star Game, but that she would still be stuck in Russia.
Her return to the U.S. hasn’t been completely joyous, however. Griner was harassed at a Dallas airport last month by someone the WNBA called a “social media figure” that caused the league to re-examine its policies regarding how she travels.
Griner is interested in playing in the new “Unrivaled” three-on-three and one-on-one league that the players are creating so they don’t have to supplement their incomes overseas.
Stewart and Napheesa Collier, an All-Star from the Minnesota Lynx, are the co-founders and hope to schedule a January-March season.
For now, though, Griner’s focus is on the All-Star festivities, and she has a great appreciation for being able to take part. She also was blown away by the tributes at last year’s game.
“Still seeing pictures from things that I didn’t see that were done at last All-Star, so I’m still getting caught up on everything,” Griner said. “But definitely it feels great actually being able to be here physically now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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