May 7, 2021 

Brittney Griner’s refreshed, recharged and ready to go for the Mercury

Griner addresses time away, Russian success, social media hate and changes at Baylor

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Brittney Griner. (Screenshot from WNBA Content Network)

PHOENIX — Brittney Griner was smiling in disbelief as she heard the words come out of her mouth, but the fact that she said it and meant it were the most remarkable part of it all.

BG wanted to practice.

“I was just saying, ‘I’m kinda sad that we’re not practicing today,’ Griner said Thursday at Mercury media day, with a laugh. “Shocker that I’m saying that. Ask me if I’m feeling the same later, at the end of the season.”

It’s very apparent that Griner is happy to be back with the Phoenix Mercury ahead of the 2021 season. On Wednesday, Griner practiced with the Mercury for the first time since leaving the team halfway through the 2020 bubble season, a time away from basketball that she felt ”helped big time” for her.

“Just having that break, honestly, it was my first break since college,” Griner said. “[From] college straight-in [to] overseas, WNBA, world championships, Olympics in Rio. It’s always been just go-go-go-go-go. I hate that it had to come in the middle of the season last year, but it was such a good reset and a good moment at that time. For me, to just be able to breathe and rest and just get myself together — fully, actually fully, not rushed trying to do it, either.”

Griner extended that time off through the end of 2020, not heading over to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg until January. Alongside Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Jonquel Jones, Emma Messeman and others, UMMC Ekaterinburg won both the Russian and EuroLeague championships. For Griner, who averaged 17.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 14 games, the way the Foxes worked together to win those titles is her main takeaway.

“It took everybody. That’s something that I learned every time I’m lucky enough to be in a championship game,” Griner said. ”It really does take everybody. EuroLeague Final Four, it really does take all of us, from the start of the game to the end of the game, and in the Russian League, it took every single one of us.”

Winning that championship, though, reminded Griner that she has a “huge burn underneath my ass” because she wasn’t on the court when the Mercury won their title in 2014, as she missed the clinching Game 3 after an emergency surgery to repair a damaged retina. It’s given her a clear focus on what she wants to achieve back home in Phoenix.

“I want to get back to the Finals and play in that very last game and win,” Griner said.

Social media takes a hateful turn

There seems to be a palpable sense of happiness and renewed spirit in Griner through the first few days of camp, especially in seeing her smiling on social media posts and joking with the media on Thursday’s Media Day Zoom call — she even ended the call by throwing up double peace signs as she signed off.

But on a TikTok post the Mercury shared of Griner earlier this week, the comment section quickly filled with many hateful comments. The Mercury called those out on other social media posts later in the week.

Griner was asked about the comments on Thursday and if she’s able to ignore and block out the vitriol.

“Sometimes,” Griner said. “I’m human. For the most part, I do good with it, and then I have my moments where it’s like … I’m human, you know? It gets to me. Sometimes, I’ll have a little back-and-forth with somebody on Instagram that’s super over-entitled or doesn’t know anything about our league or anything about me.

“Everybody always has their own opinions, and I’m all for opinions. But sometimes, it’s how they attack our league and us as women playing basketball, it’s just rude and … honestly, disheartening.”

Her longtime teammate Diana Taurasi— a known recluse when it comes to social media — praised how Griner has handled social media criticism over the years.

“When it comes to BG, she’s been battling that her whole life, and she’s handled it in such a great way,” Taurasi said. “Sometimes, you just can’t care — you can’t care so much about what a stranger has to say. That’s how I approach things. I really only care about my family, my teammates, my close friends. If you start worrying about what everyone has to say about you, then you’re going to be living a very hard life. I’ve just never lived in that realm and I could care less.”

Griner’s thoughts on Baylor’s coaching turnover

In her first American media appearance since USA Basketball’s mini-camp last month, Griner was also asked about the coaching changes at Baylor, her alma mater.

Griner’s former coach, Kim Mulkey, left for LSU, which Griner didn’t seem all that surprised by.

“Kim went home,” Griner said. “I’m happy for her. One thing that woman always talked about was Louisiana. I have family from Louisiana, so I get it, so I know she’s happy to be back home, so I’m happy for her.”

Meanwhile, Baylor hired Nicki Collen away from the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, a move Griner thinks will work out well for her former school.

“I think she’s definitely going to fit in,” Griner said. “I think she’s going to do a great job there, honestly. They got a great coach.”

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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