Brittney Griner had a homecoming in Texas, privately and on court with the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA star’s home state six months after her release from a Russian prison.
The only thing really missing was a win.
Even before the first of back-to-back games against the Dallas Wings, Griner was receiving shouts of encouragement as he ate with his teammates. And less than two hours before Wednesday night’s game, he met privately with the women’s basketball team from Baylor, the campus 100 miles away where he participated in a 40-0 national championship in 2012.
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«Close to home, the AAU team is here, my high school came up, Baylor went down. I was very, very, very, very happy to see the Baylor team. That meant a lot to have them here,» said Griner, who also had family of Houston and Little Rock in the game.
When the starting lineups were announced before Phoenix’s 84-79 loss, Griner received a standing ovation from the 4,242 crowd. She responded by applauding the crowd, then made a jumper on the first shot of the game for the first of her 24 points.
«It was a lot of support. It was good to see everyone and to be back in Texas. I mean, I miss being here, so it was great,» he said. «When I came out, love, that meant a lot to me.»
The Mercury was on the road for the second time this season. It’s the first time Griner has played in her home state since before missing all of last season while she was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months on drug charges that culminated in a prisoner exchange in December.
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Forward Satou Sabally, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds, said it means a lot to have Griner back.
«Last year we played without her and it was weird, something was missing,» Sabally said. «And now everything is back to normal.»
Phoenix and Dallas play again on Friday night, a sold-out game at the University of Texas-Arlington campus arena that can hold about 7,000 fans.
«This is a joyous distraction compared to what we all went through last year,» Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. «Every city last year, it was the BG game, but not the BG game like this, so I’m extremely grateful to have her back. We can’t forget what a miracle she’s here.»
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Dallas coach Latricia Trammell said the highlight of her day was giving Griner a big hug as the Mercury walked onto the field for their morning shootaround as the Wings wrapped up their session.
«It was just an emotional moment for all of us,» Trammell said. «Just honored and blessed that she’s on the floor safe, healthy. And as she told me, she says, all is happiness from here.»
Griner also shared hugs with Wings players Odyssey Sims and Kalani Brown, both former Baylor players. Sims was Griner’s teammate on the undefeated national championship team, while Brown was part of the Bears’ national championship in 2019.
Brown used to go to camps at Baylor when Griner played there: «BG doesn’t like me taking that camp picture,» Brown said with a laugh.
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Now that Griner is back on the court, Brown said it’s important for her to know how much everyone was doing for her and praying for her in a difficult time.
«I’m glad that situation hasn’t dimmed her light, because she’s the sweetest person. Every encounter we have, I’ve never had a negative one,» Brown said. «I’m so glad that didn’t change her.»
When current Baylor players met with Griner, they presented him with a commemorative frame bearing the «BG42» patch that the Bears wore on their jerseys last season, even after Griner was released.
Nicki Collen, who just finished her second season as Baylor’s coach, said her goal is to retire Griner’s No. 42 jersey as soon as next season when the school opens its new basketball arena. No one has worn that number for the Bears since Griner’s senior season in 2012-13, the last time he was on campus for a game.
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«I think one of the things that BG wants is to feel really welcome at Baylor,» Collen said. «So getting the opportunity to connect the dots is going to be really huge for our program.»
Griner, who has since finished his title at Baylor, said he would love to see his jersey hanging in the rafters and hopes to return to a game on the Waco campus.
«I played my best basketball there and met some really amazing people,» Griner said. «I can’t wait to go back. I mean, it’s safe to say I’ll never go overseas to play ball again. So, you know, in the offseason I’ll be able to go watch games and be there.» .»