Mercury will respect Brittney Griner’s process of recovery, Nygaard says

Dec 9, 2022, 10:04 AM

New Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard wears a T-shirt referring to player Brittney Griner ...

New Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard wears a T-shirt referring to player Brittney Griner before a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said in an interview with CNN on Friday that the team will allow center Brittney Griner to take her time recuperating after being freed from a nearly 10-month prison stay in Russia.

Griner returned to the United States on Friday morning, arriving at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. She was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a “routine evaluation,” officials told CNN.

What comes next for Griner isn’t known, but the Mercury and WNBA communities will allow her to choose when to take the next step of reaching out. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Nygaard have both said they are giving her space.

“We’re going to respect her process, her family’s wishes, and make sure she has all the support,” Nygaard said on CNN. “Mental health is very important in our league as well as maybe the physical conditions she’s been under. We want to support her, give her the space she needs and make sure she’s feeling OK. When she’s ready, we’re ready to celebrate with her.”

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after she was found carrying vape cartridges that had cannabis oil in them.

The United States and Russia completed an exchange of Griner for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout early Thursday. The prisoner swap was confirmed by President Joe Biden early Thursday, and the Mercury held a team meeting following the news.

Griner’s return has lifted a weight off her teammates’ and coaches’ shoulders, according to Nygaard.

“Every day for us in the season, when we went to other arenas, the story of BG was that game,” the head coach said. “For us, it was every single day that we thought about her, that we missed her. For my players that were teammates with her a very long time, you know, you go into a city and something would remind them of her: The locker room, maybe a place they would go to dinner. Every day they would carry that with them.”

As for Griner’s basketball future, determining her status there is many steps down the road.

The Mercury are relieved she is back home.

“I know she absolutely loves basketball and she’s the most dominant player in the world,” Nygaard said. “If she chooses to continue to play, we absolutely want to support her. But this isn’t really the time for that.

“We’re just glad she’s back, we’re just so happy she’s reunited with her family and we get to move forward. And her health and her safety is the most important thing.”

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