October 10, 2022 

The Morning Post-Up, Vol. 3 —  “You could hear that she was not okay”: Negotiations continue for the release of Brittney Griner

Plus: NCAA pushes on women’s NIT, France grab gold in U23 3x3 World Cup

It’s Monday. Welcome to The Morning Post-Up, a twice-weekly newsletter from The Next. Today’s edition features the most recent updates to the effort to release Brittney Griner from Russia and the NCAA’s most recent movement on a second postseason tournament. Then, we preview upcoming events in Europe and catch you up on the past week in 3×3 and EuroCup qualifiers.

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Brittney Griner

It has been 234 days since Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained near Moscow after less than a gram of cannabis oil was found in her luggage. Since then, the public effort calling for her return to the U.S. has taken a number of forms, including the highly visible slogan campaign “We Are BG,” a 15-foot mural in Washington D.C., and rallies across the country, to name a few. Now, with the 2022 WNBA season in the rearview mirror and players beginning to scatter to leagues around the world, Griner’s cause rings ever stronger.

Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, appeared on “CBS Mornings” on Oct. 6, and spoke candidly about how Griner’s condition has worsened in the recent months. Despite only being given two chances to speak with her wife over the phone, Cherelle’s account of Griner’s change in spirits was chilling. “The first conversation, it was just so delightful just to hear her voice,” she said. “The second phone call … it was the most disturbing phone call I’d ever experienced.”

“You could hear that she was not okay.”

The release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed from Russia in April, as well as the release of American prisoners from Venezuela and Iran earlier this month, has been a promising trend, though whether this movement will affect Griner’s return to the U.S. is uncertain. On Sunday, former New Mexico governor and UN ambassador Bill Richardson indicated he was “cautiously optimistic” of a deal to return Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine also imprisoned in Russia.

Richardson was associated with the effort to release Trevor Reed, but has long acted as a private citizen, rather than as a representative of the U.S. government. “I’m just giving you my assessment after two visits to Russia on behalf of American hostages,” Richardson said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I got the sense that the Russian officials that I met with, that I’ve known over the years, are ready to talk.”

On Aug. 4, Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison, near the 10-year maximum. Griner’s legal team has filed an appeal of the sentence as of Aug. 15. Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, who represent Griner, have expressed that the typical sentence for cases similar to Griner’s is five years. Said President Biden after Griner’s sentencing, “[Griner’s sentence] is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.”

Now two months later, Cherelle reflected on Griner’s sentencing: “Because BG is Brittney Griner, I do think that this got really complicated really quickly,” Cherelle said. “It tears me to pieces to see that this is not balanced for my wife … BG has truly suffered beyond her crime already.”

She continued, “I don’t know if she has anything left in her tank to continue to wake up every day and be in a place where she has no one.”

NCAA pushes on women’s NIT

On Oct. 5, CBS Sports reported that the NCAA Division I Council had passed a proposal for a tournament similar to the men’s NIT. This comes after August’s oversight committee meeting, where such a proposal was discussed, and the Aug. 26 joint meeting of the men’s and women’s oversight committees, where “a status update” was given on the potential for the NCAA to offer additional “postseason opportunities for women’s basketball.”

Additionally, the report from the Sept. 9 meeting of the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee specifically notes that the construction of the tournament should be similar to the Men’s National Invitational Tournament, and that the “finances, revenue and governance process” for putting together the event are being considered. The CBS report gave March 2024 as a “target start date” for the new tournament.

Not out of sight of March 2024 is the renewal of the NCAA’s media rights deal with ESPN. The current deal between the two entities will expire after the 2023–24 season. Should the new tournament come through, it would be an additional opportunity for ESPN to expand its college basketball offerings – or be a chance for another network to get the rights, though that is considered unlikely. After ESPN lost out on Big Ten football and basketball, Front Office Sports reported that the network was specifically interested in the NCAA championships, and women’s college sports in particular.

On the block

Next up tournaments to keep your eye on

  • EuroLeague Qualifying Tournaments, Oct. 11–19. A schedule of games is available here, and all matches are free to watch at the EuroLeague Women YouTube channel.
  • SuperCup Women, Oct. 18, 2:00 p.m. ET. EuroLeague champions Sopron Basket face EuroCup champions Bourges Basket, in an exhibition match which opens the EuroLeague and EuroCup seasons by pitting the previous year’s champions against one another. In the event’s 10-year history, the EuroLeague champion has lost just once, when Valencia upset UMMC in last year’s edition.

Dish and swish

Recent results to know

FIBA 3×3 U23 World Cup — Knockout Round, Bucharest Metropolitan Circus, Romania — France took home gold after going undefeated in the preliminary rounds and defeating Japan (21–13), Netherlands (20–16), and the U.S. (21–18) in the playoffs. In the final match against the U.S., Anna Ngo Ndjock led France with 14 points, including four shots from 2-point range. Ngo Ndjock eventually named Tournament MVP. Lexie Hull finished as the tournament’s top scorer, with 63 points in seven games, six points over the next closest player from either the men’s or women’s tournament. Hull, Ngo Ndjock, and the Netherlands’ Julia Jorritsma were named to the Team of the Tournament. Replays of the tournament’s matches are free to view at YouTube.com/c/FIBA3x3.

EuroCup Women Qualifiers — Regular season groups are taking shape as the qualifying round presses on. Groups L and G are set, while groups A through E and H through K await the results of the qualifying tournaments. Groups A, B, E, F, and J will have one slot filled by teams who do not qualify for the EuroLeague regular season. The home-and-home qualifying series will resume on Oct. 12, with games free to stream at YouTube.com/FIBA.

Notable performances

  • EuroCup: Jennie Simms (Elitzur Holon, Israel) notched a triple double in Holon’s opening match versus ESPE (Esperides Kallitheas, Greece.) Simms’ 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists was a delight and a rarity in the league.
  • Spanish SuperCup: In the Spanish League pre-season SuperCup, Rebekah Gardner (Spar Girona) had 13 points, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Gardner was heroic in the final two minutes, and helped lead Spar Girona to the SuperCup title over Valencia. Gardner was also named MVP of the SuperCup.

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Written by Isabel Rodrigues

Isabel Rodrigues (she/her) is a contributing editor for The Next from upstate New York. She occasionally covers 3x3 and labor in women's basketball.

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