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Brittney Griner returns to practice for Mercury as she prepares for first media day since release


The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury caught a glimpse of Brittney Grinier before the season, as the 6-foot-9 center prepares to face the media for the first time since his release from a Russian penal colony on Dec. 8.

Read the caption on the Phoenix Mercury Twitter account, which encouraged the team’s fans to see them return to the courts for the team’s first home game on May 21: “It’s one thing to go back to the court, another to go home.” Ahead of that, Griner and the Mercury will play the Sparks in Los Angeles on Opening Day, May 19.

Griner is seen doing individual exercises against a male trainer in the social media clip. Playing without her dreadlocks, which she shaved while imprisoned in Russia for drugs, Greiner hits a variety of shots while showing off her deft ball-handling skills.

The eight-time WNBA All-Star is scheduled to speak at Mercury’s media day on Thursday. Greiner has stayed away from reporters since his release in a prisoner exchange that allowed arms dealer Viktor Bout to return home to Russia.

However, she has made many notable public appearances, ranging from a women’s empowerment luncheon hosted by the National Action Network for Reverend Al Sharpton to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona, where she is seen with his wife, Cheryl.

Playing without her dreadlocks, which she shaved off while imprisoned in Russia for drug charges, Greiner hits a variety of shots while showing off her ball-handling skills.

Griner is seen doing individual exercises against a male trainer in the social media clip

ESPN selected the return of Brittney Grinier as the game's opening coverage for the new WNBA season

ESPN selected the return of Brittney Grinier as the game’s opening coverage for the new WNBA season

A national champion at Baylor in 2012 and a WNBA champion with the Mercury two years later, Griner has been supplementing her earnings by playing in the Russian league since 2014. But while returning to the country in February of 2022, the Houston native was arrested at an airport outside Moscow with what he claimed Russian security said it was cartridges of cannabis oil.

Amid the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, Greiner was found guilty and sentenced to nine out of a possible ten years in a Russian penal colony, it reported in November. However, she was released a month later after the US State Department negotiated a prisoner exchange for Bout.

Griner re-signs with the team in February and is poised to earn $165,000 for the upcoming season.

Griner's first press conference is on Thursday

Griner’s first press conference is on Thursday

Greiner is preparing to release a memoir next year about her 2022 arrest in Moscow, drug trial, and subsequent 10-month detention, the last few weeks of which she spent in a Russian penal colony.

“That day (in February) was the beginning of an incomprehensible period in my life that I am only now willing to share,” Greiner said in a statement released Tuesday by publisher Alfred Knopf.

Greiner hopes her writers will help other Americans detained abroad, including Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan Gershkovitch, who was arrested in Russia last month and charged with espionage; and Paul Whelan, who is being held on espionage charges.

By writing this book, I also hope to raise awareness about other Americans unjustly detained abroad such as Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovitch, Imad Sharqi, Airan Peri, Shihab Dalili, Luke Denman, Evin Hernandez, Majd Kamalmaz, Jerel Kenmore, Kay Lee, Siamak Namazi And Austin Tice, Mark Sweidan, and Murad Tahbaz.

“The main reason I went back to Russia to work that day was because I wanted to be proud of my wife, family and teammates,” Griner wrote. After an incredibly challenging 10 months in detention, I am grateful to be saved and to be back home. Readers will hear my story and understand why I am so grateful for the outpouring of support from people all over the world.

The centre, 32, is set to play for the Phoenix Mercury after being in Russia for 10 months.

The centre, 32, is set to play for the Phoenix Mercury after being in Russia for 10 months.

Russia has been a popular playing destination for the WNBA’s top athletes in the off-season, some of whom earn salaries in excess of $1 million—nearly four times what they could make as a WNBA base salary. Despite pleading guilty to possession of packages of cannabis oil, as a result of what she said was hasty packing, Grenier still faces trial under Russian law.

Greener’s memoirs are currently untitled and will eventually be published in a youth edition. Financial terms were not disclosed, and Penguin Random House spokespeople did not respond to DailyMail.com’s request for more information.

Griner officially returns to court on May 19, when she and the Mercury Los Angeles Sparks will face off on ABC/ESPN. She hasn’t played for the Mercury since 2021, when she led Phoenix to the WNBA Finals before losing to the Chicago Sky.

Regardless, Griner was virtually unstoppable that season, averaging 20.5 points, 1.9 blocks, 2.7 assists, and career highs with 9.5 rebounds per game.

Ivan Gershkovich

Paul Whelan

Greiner hopes her imprisoned writers Ivan Gershkovitch (left) and Paul Whelan (right) will help

Greiner was assigned to a penal colony in Mordovia, a region known for its brutal prison system, until the Biden administration managed to free her earlier this month.

“President Biden, you brought me home knowing you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home, too,” she wrote in a statement after her release. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone who played a role in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be complete.

The Biden administration negotiated with the Kremlin for months to get Griner and Whelan back from Russia, but only managed to get the WNBA star for Bout.

In December, Griner and Bute crossed paths on a runway in the United Arab Emirates to complete the trade. Bot, referred to by some as the “Death Dealer”, was arrested on terrorism charges in 2008 and later convicted in the United States.

The deal drew criticism from Republicans, who were upset that the White House failed to get Whelan as well. In response to attacks from the right, White House officials acknowledged that prisoner exchanges are costly, adding that they felt compelled to bring Griner home while they had the chance.

Griner was briefly imprisoned in the IK-2 penal colony in the town of Yavas in Mordovia

Griner was briefly imprisoned in the IK-2 penal colony in the town of Yavas in Mordovia

Greiner was facing difficult conditions in the Russian penal colony in Jaffas.

Founded for the Soviet gulag system in 1931, Yavas remains one of the largest hubs in Russia’s network of prisons and penal colonies. She currently has three institutions, including a women’s colony, a men’s colony, and a mixed colony.

The notorious penal colony is known as a rat-infested workshop for prisoners, some of whom lost their fingers during long hours at their sewing machines. To deal with the rat population, keepers recruited stray cats, which were later euthanized in ovens to reduce their numbers, according to 2019.

Veronica Krass, a former IK-14 prisoner, told Radio Free Europe that a sign reading “Welcome to Hell” greets the new inmates of the penal colony.

Notable political prisoners have spent time at IK-14, including Nadezhda Tolkonnikova, founding member of the punk group Pussy Riot, and an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As the prisoners say, “If you haven’t had time in Mordovia, you haven’t had time yet,” Tolkonikova wrote in a letter published in 2013.

She described IK-14 as living in “slave-like conditions”, working in a tailor’s shop “16 to 17 hours a day” while getting “four hours of sleep every night”.

Tolokonnikova’s description of the IK-14 was described as “correct” by the director of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), Valery Maksimenko. In December of 2019, Maksimenko asked prosecutors to open an investigation into accusations of forced labor at the facility in Mordovia. In the end, the director of IK-14, Yuriy Kupriyanov, was sacked, along with other officials.

When the girls find out they’re going to Mordovia, they cut their wrists, doing everything possible: get sick, and swallow their nails, just so they don’t have to go there. Jelena Alekseeva, a former deputy minister who was sentenced in 2013 to 3 and a half years in prison for abetting commercial bribery, said her reputation is well known, especially after Nadia Tolkonnikova’s letter.

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