Brittney Griner is expected to make her return from a three-game absence on Saturday night when the Phoenix Mercury take on the Seattle Storm, the team announced on Friday. Griner sat out of the Mercury’s last three games in order to focus on her mental health.
Griner is back in the WNBA this summer after missing all of the 2022 season while she was detained in Russia on drug charges. She was sentenced to nine years in prison, and ended up spending nearly 10 months in custody before she was released via a prisoner swap in December of 2022.
Given the circumstances, it was unclear when or if Griner would return to basketball. She quickly decided that she wanted to play, however, and signed a one-year deal with the Mercury in free agency to remain with the team that selected her as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. And just five months after arriving back on American soil, she was in the lineup on opening night when the Mercury took on the Los Angeles Sparks.
On the court, Griner has largely been her usual self. Through 20 games she is averaging 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on 57.5% shooting, and ranks 11th in the league in scoring, third in field goal percentage and third in blocks. She was voted a starter for the All-Star Game and made her ninth appearance in the annual event, which is tied for fourth all-time.
This summer has not been without challenges, though. In addition to her most recent absence to focus on her mental health, she also missed three games with a hip injury in June. Most notably, she was also verbally harassed at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by a social media provocateur, who approached her and the team and begin shouting abuse while filming the incident.
Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident, but it was a reminder that she’s still dealing with the aftereffects of her time in Russia. As a result of that episode, the league gave Griner and the Mercury permission to fly charter for the remainder of the season.
The Mercury are currently in 10th place in the standings at 7-19, which puts them 3.5 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot.