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Brittney Griner's Tearful WNBA teammates play after sentencing

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard and her teaching employees stood within the empty Mohegan Sun area Thursday, bewildered.

The Mercury was scheduled to face the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m., and its gamers had been imagined to be on the sector doing their pregame shootout, however nobody confirmed up.

Instead, the Mercury gamers had been again within the locker room, glued to the TV display watching their teammate Conviction and sentencing of Brittney Griner on drug trafficking and possession fees earlier at present in a Russian court docket 1000’s of miles away. “It was like you were waiting for a bomb to drop,” Mercury guard Diamond DeShields mentioned.

They watched with tear-filled eyes as Griner fought again his personal tears and begged a Russian court docket to not ‘finish his life’ for an ‘trustworthy mistake’. Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony and fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,000. The sentence opens the door for Griner to be returned to the United States through a prisoner swap, however for gamers the information was nonetheless heartbreaking to listen to.

“And we’re still supposed to play this game,” Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith mentioned after the sport, including an expletive. “No one even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the game and approach the pitch with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?”

Nygaard mentioned the crew finally went by a “version” of filming, however nothing concerning the day or the sport felt regular. The most atypical second of the night time for Nygaard got here moments earlier than kick-off, because the lights went out and the gamers, coaches and referees locked arms in solidarity for 42 seconds – matching Griner’s jersey quantity. Fans chanted “We are BG” and “Bring her home”.

“I even tied my arms to a referee so you know you’ll never see that again,” Nygaard mentioned with a smile.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17 after customs officers mentioned they discovered hash oil, a hashish by-product, in Griner’s baggage at an airport close to Moscow when she was touring to the nation for enjoying for UMMC Yekaterinburg, an expert ladies’s basketball crew. Griner testified throughout his drug trafficking trial that the hash oil, contained in a vape pen, was mistakenly packaged. WNBA gamers and different skilled athletes campaigned fiercely for his freedom. In May, the US State Department mentioned it had decided Griner was “wrongfully detained” and officers would work to free her. Experts mentioned a prisoner alternate was the probably route for Griner’s launch. the White House just lately mentioned it had made a “substantial” proposal.

Meanwhile, Griner teammates and followers continued their public assist marketing campaign.

As followers stuffed the sector Thursday night time, they had been greeted by Connecticut Sun dancers and area employees sporting “We are BG” t-shirts. Griner’s purple and orange Mercury No. 42 jerseys stuffed the stands with variations of clothes with messages calling for his freedom. The Mercury gamers donned the “We are BG” jerseys throughout pre-game warm-ups, as did the Connecticut teaching employees and several other Sun gamers. Point guard Sun Jasmine Thomas, who was injured, wore a hoodie with an image of Griner on the entrance and his quantity 42 on the again.

Sharon White, Sun fan and subscriber since 2002, was amongst those that wore the colours of Mercury. She wore a purple t-shirt with Griner’s title and quantity on it, which she mentioned she wore to each recreation, whatever the opponent.

“When I get home I wash it and wear it again, even when they’re not playing,” White mentioned, including that her buddies usually made enjoyable of her for a way a lot she wears the jersey. White mentioned she cried watching Griner’s verdict on Thursday.

“It just hurts – I love her as a player, and it’s just a sad situation,” White mentioned, wiping the tears from her eyes. She added: “She doesn’t need to be there. When she comes home, she doesn’t have to go back. I don’t think any of our players should go there.

Many WNBA players go overseas during the off-season to play for international teams to supplement their income. Griner was shown holding a picture of her UMMC Yekaterinburg team photo behind bars on Thursday.

Among those pictured was Jonquel Jones, the Sun forward who won the WNBA Most Valuable Player award last season. Jones, like Griner, has played for the Russian team for several years.

Jones said she never expected something like Griner’s detention to happen. After Griner’s arrest, Jones said she learned that even cannabidiol oil, which she always carries with her to help her recover from pain and injuries, was illegal in Russia.

“My experiences there were so good,” Jones said. “Our team was top notch. They treated us like the professionals we are. We loved going there because of it. So we always felt safe. We never felt like anything was going to happen. So seeing this happen to one of my teammates and being so close to it and understanding that it could have been me, it puts that into perspective.

Jones said it was hard to be excited for Thursday’s game; the moment of solidarity made her even more emotional.

“It was like, ‘Dang, we did this, and now I have to go play basketball; my friend is still locked up overseas,” Jones mentioned. “So you just go out and do your best and don’t take the moment for granted, knowing that’s where she would want to be.”

The Mercury misplaced the sport, 77-64, with an 18-0 Sun run within the third and fourth quarters that put the sport out of attain. Diggins led the sport with 16 factors, and Jones completed with 14. But for each groups, the numbers apparently didn’t matter.

“We will wake up tomorrow and BG will still be in a Russian prison,” Nygaard mentioned. “It’s day 169 or something tomorrow, and the clock goes on, and we just want her to come home.”

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