New York coach Sandy Brondello was on her way to her team’s Friday morning shootaround when she heard the “disappointing” news that Russia had extended Brittney Griner’s pre-trial detention another 30 days.
Griner’s original detention date was set to end on 19 May. The two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage. Griner, 31, faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The 30-day extension could mean Griner’s case could go to trial soon.
Whatever is next on the legal horizon didn’t take the sting out of the latest news for Brondello, who coached Griner for eight years in Phoenix before taking over the New York Liberty this year.
“Obviously very disappointed to hear they are extending BG’s stay in Russia and we’ve got to do everything we can to get her out,” Brondello said. “We have to free BG. We need her back here. Hopefully the government can do something about it sooner rather than later.”
The 6ft 9in Griner appeared for the brief hearing at a court outside Moscow handcuffed, wearing an orange hoodie and holding her face down.
While the extension wasn’t unexpected, players across the league saw the photos and video of Griner and said it was all difficult to see.
“It was a gut punch. I saw the pictures,” said Fever guard Danielle Robinson who played with Griner in Phoenix for a season. “You get to know her and her family, what she’s all about, what she stands for. Knowing her heart, she has such a heart for other people, it’s super sad.”
Ariel Atkins, who played with Griner in the Tokyo Olympics last summer, said she doesn’t understand everything in Griner’s case but that she “just wants to do anything that I can to help bring her home. Just a devastating situation. I can’t imagine how her family feels right now.”
Griner’s wife Cherelle, who graduated from North Carolina Central University earlier this month, hasn’t said much about the stress on their family.
The news of Griner’s detention being extended had Mercury guard Brianna Turner recalling good deeds done by her teammate, moving her to post on Twitter hours later a story of how Griner would save her leftover food and give it to a homeless person.
“Of course with her on my mind I thought to do the same today” Turner wrote. “Sometimes a free meal can make a person’s day. If possible, do something nice for a stranger today.”
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas started posting on Twitter two weeks ago a count of the days that Griner’s been detained overseas. Friday was the 85th day.
Hours after the extension Kagawa Colas tweeted that Griner’s team expects the government to “use all options available to immediately and safely bring Griner home”.
Others have followed suit and are tweeting about the days Griner has been detained, including Seattle Storm All-Star Breanna Stewart and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.
All seem determined to ensure Griner’s name and detention remain on people’s minds, then as Wings coach Vickie Johnson said, “let the league take care of it, and her lawyers.”
“Only thing I can do, I’m great friends with Brittney, is continue to pray for her and her family,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, she’s OK mentally and physically.”
The US and Russia agreed a prisoner swap last month that saw the US marine veteran Trevor Reed freed from prison in Russia, where he had been serving a nine-year sentence on assault charges.
He was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been serving a 20-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of drug trafficking.
Russia continues to hold Paul Whelan, another US marine veteran who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2020.