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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygard and her coaching staff stood in confusion Thursday in the empty Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Mercury will take on the Connecticut Suns at 7 p.m. Her players were supposed to be on the court for their normal pregame shooting drills, but no one showed up.

Instead, the Mercury players returned to the locker room, staring at TV screens as their teammate Brittney Greener was charged with drug smuggling and possession charges earlier in the day in a Russian court thousands of miles away. Conviction and sentencing. “It’s like you’re waiting for a bomb to fall,” said Mercury Guardian Diamond DeShields.

They watched in tears as Griner struggled to get over her own tears and pleaded with the Russian court not to “end her life” for “honest mistakes”. Griner was sentenced to nine years in exile in Russia and fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,000. That statement opened the door for Griner to return to the U.S. via a prisoner exchange, but the news remains heartbreaking for the player.

“We should still be in this game,” Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the game, adding an expletive. “No one even wanted to play today. How should we even approach the game and approach the pitch with a clear mind when the whole team is crying before the game?”

Nygaard said the team ended up going through a “version” of shooting, but nothing about the day or the game felt normal. For Nigold, the most unusual moment of the night occurred just before kick-off, when the lights dimmed and players, coaches and referees joined hands for 42 seconds – as many as the number of Greener jerseys. match. Fans chanted “We are BG” and “Take her home”.

“I’m even connected to the referee, so you know you’re never going to see that again,” Nygaard said with a laugh.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17 after customs officials said they found cannabis oil, a type of cannabis oil, in her luggage at the airport near Moscow when she traveled to Russia to play for professional women’s basketball team UMMC Yekaterinburg. Cannabis derivatives. At trial on drug charges, Griner said the marijuana oil in the vape pen was mispackaged. WNBA players and other professional athletes campaigned fiercely for her freedom. In May, the U.S. State Department said it had determined that Greener had been “wrongly detained” and that its officials would work to release her. Experts say a prisoner swap is the most likely route to Griner’s release. The White House recently said it made a “substantial” proposal.

Meanwhile, Griner’s teammates and fans continued their public campaign of support.

As fans packed the arena on Thursday night, they were greeted by Connecticut Sun dancers and arena staff wearing “We are BG” T-shirts. Griner’s purple and orange Mercury jersey number 42 filled the stands with a message calling for her freedom. Mercury players donned “We are BG” jerseys during pregame warmups, as did Connecticut’s coaching staff and several Suns players. Injured Suns point guard Jasmine Thomas wore a hooded sweatshirt with Griner’s picture on the front and her No. 42 on the back.

Suns fan and season ticket holder Sharon White is one of those wearing the Mercury colors since 2002. She wore a purple T-shirt with Griner’s name and number on it, which she said she would wear every match, regardless of her opponent.

“When I get home, I wash it off before I put it on, even if they’re not playing,” White said, adding that her friends often make fun of how well she wears the shirt. White said she cried when she saw Greener’s sentencing on Thursday.

“It’s painful – I love her as a player, it’s just a sad situation,” White said, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. She added: “She doesn’t need to be there. When she gets home, she doesn’t need to go back. I don’t think any of our players should be there.”

Many WNBA players go abroad to play for international teams during the offseason to supplement their income. Griner emerged from prison on Thursday with a photo of her UMMC Yekaterinburg team.

Those in the photo include Suns forward Jonquel Jones, who won the WNBA Most Valuable Player award last season. Jones, like Griner, has been playing for Russia for several years.

Jones said she never thought something like Greener’s detention would happen. After Greener’s arrest, Jones said she learned that even the cannabidiol oil, which she always carried with her to help recover from pain and injury, was illegal in Russia.

“My experience there was very good,” Jones said. “Our team is top notch. They treat us like our professionals. So we love going there. So we always feel safe. We never feel like anything is going to happen. So seeing it happen in Being so close to one of my teammates and understanding that it could be me gave me the right idea.”

Getting excited about Thursday’s game is difficult, Jones said. The moment of solidarity made her even more excited.

“It’s like, ‘Damn, we did it, now I’m going to play basketball; my friends are still locked up overseas,'” Jones said. “So you just go out and do your best and don’t take this moment for granted because you know this is where she wants to be.”

The Mercury lost 77-64, and the Suns went 18-0 in the third and fourth quarters to keep the game out of reach. Deakins was the game’s leading scorer with 16 points and Jones had 14 points. But for both parties, the numbers don’t seem to matter.

“We wake up tomorrow and BG will still be in a Russian prison,” Nygaard said. “Tomorrow is day 169 and time goes on, we just want her to go home.”

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