In February, Brittney Griner officially re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury after missing the entire 2022 WNBA season due to a 10-month detention in Russia.

Griner probably didn’t know what to expect once this season started after being away from basketball for so long. She has had a solid season thus far and was named a WNBA All-Star starter, averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots for the Mercury.

Before Saturday’s All-Star break, Griner revealed that his level of play was a pleasant surprise.

«I just wanted to go out and do my best not to get hurt, to do my best,» Griner said. «I was a little bit surprised, actually, what it was like once I got on the court, so I’m happy with that.»


Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner talks about recent events, her struggling team and her new interim head coach during a news conference in Phoenix on June 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Griner also acknowledged that she faced an uphill battle when she returned to basketball, but acknowledged that hard work and determination put her in a position to play at a high level.

«It was definitely a tough road. Lots of long, hard hours in the gym and weight room to get back at it,» he said.


Griner was arrested on February 17, 2022, on drug charges at an airport near Moscow. She was released on December 8 after the US government agreed to a prisoner exchange.

The WNBA kept Griner in mind while she was detained in Russia, putting her initials and jersey number on each court. She was also named an honorary starter at last year’s All-Star Game.

Brittney Griner makes a move

Dallas Wings center Kalani Brown falls backwards while defending against Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner during the second half of their WNBA game in Arlington, Texas on June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Griner, 32, will play for Team Stewart during Saturday’s game at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

«It’s really inspiring to see what he’s doing and the way he carries himself,» said team captain Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty.

«It’s like he’s been gone for 10 months, but he still acts and carries himself the same way. The strength he has to do that is something I definitely admire. And the way he can be a force on the court.» She’s one of a kind, and we’re happy she’s back with us.»

Griner said that not only did she not think she would make this year’s All-Star Game, but that she would still be stuck in Russia.

However, his return to the United States has not been entirely happy. Griner was harassed at a Dallas airport last month by someone the WNBA called a «social media figure» who caused the league to reexamine its policies regarding how she travels.

Brittney Griner plays for the Mercury in 2021

Brittney Griner is congratulated by her Phoenix Mercury teammates in a second round game against the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Playoffs in Everett, Washington on September 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Griner is interested in playing in the new three-on-three and one-on-one «Unrivaled» league that players are creating so they don’t have to supplement their income abroad.

Stewart and Minnesota Lynx All-Star Napheesa Collier are co-founders and hope to schedule a season from January to March.


For now, though, Griner’s focus is on the All-Star festivities, and he’s very appreciative of being able to participate. She was also impressed by the tributes at last year’s game.

«I still see pictures of things I didn’t see that were done at the last All-Star, so I’m still on top of everything,» Griner said. «But it definitely feels great to be able to be here physically now.»

Associated Press contributed to this report.