April 6, 2024 

‘She’s so dope’: Team USA players react to Brittney Griner’s return to camp

This month's camp was only Griner's second time training with Team USA since her release from a Russian prison

Last season, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner made national news in her return to the WNBA. Now she is seeking a return to the Olympic stage with Team USA.

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Griner, who already owns two Olympic gold medals, was in Team USA’s training camp this week in the Cleveland area, coinciding with the Final Four. The team is preparing for this summer’s Paris Olympics, where it will look to win an eighth consecutive gold medal.

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After being wrongfully detained for 10 months in Russia in 2022, the 6’9 Griner made an immediate impact with the Phoenix Mercury in 2023. She averaged 17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. She became an All-Star for the ninth time and was second in the WNBA in field goal percentage and third in blocks.

The 33-year-old Griner has been a fundamental part of USA Basketball since first appearing with the senior team in 2011. She has made an impact on both older and younger players, and the feelings this week about her return were overwhelmingly glowing from her campmates. This is only her second time training with the national team since her release, following a November training camp and exhibition game against Tennessee.

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart won gold medals with Griner in both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, as well as the 2014 and 2018 FIBA World Cups.

“Every time I am in her presence,” Stewart told reporters on Friday, “I am amazed at how she’s able to do what she does with what she’s went through in the past two years. She has been an integral part of this team, and I am excited to play alongside her.”

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At age 23, Washington Mystics center/forward Shakira Austin gushed about meeting Griner for the first time, let alone playing with her. Austin won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2022 World Cup, but Griner wasn’t there.

“When she came and played against us [in the WNBA], I wasn’t playing [due to injury] and she was kind of busy,” Austin told reporters on Friday. “I never actually got to talk to her, and this is my first time, and she’s so dope. I really enjoyed her. She’s honestly one of the coolest people I’ve met so far. If we ever get the chance to double that back in the W, she could give me a call. But I’m excited to see the potential of me and her playing together.”

It was more than just advice for playing in the post that intrigued Austin. Griner’s effervescent personality did, too.

“She’s just a lovable person,” Austin added. “She is a leader — she’s always vocal. You could just see her energy; the energy just radiates off her. It’s really mesmerizing. Honestly, she doesn’t even have to say much, but she kind of just brightens the room. And that is something I see in myself.”

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Of anyone on Team USA, Diana Taurasi might be most familiar with Griner. The five-time Olympic champion has played alongside Griner in Phoenix ever since the Mercury selected Griner first overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft.

“We’ve been together now for 11 years,” Taurasi said. “She’s one of the kindest, most genuine, most fun-loving people you’ll ever be around. And I appreciate that. She just loves the game of basketball. I’m just really proud of her and how she’s bounced back from a lot of things in her life. She’s one of my great friends forever.”

The opening ceremonies for the Paris Olympics are on July 26. Team USA’s first game against Japan is on July 29, and additional group-stage matches against Belgium and Germany are on Aug. 1 and 4.

The Next’s Tee Baker contributed reporting for this story.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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