Brittney Griner ‘front of mind’ during WNBA Draft

(Left to right) Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith after they were drafted top three in 2013. (Courtesy: Skylar Diggins-Smith)

Before a single pick was made in the 2022 WNBA Draft, ESPN started their coverage with a report about Phoenix Mercury superstar, Brittney Griner.

“She is front of mind tonight at the WNBA Draft,” ESPN’s Holly Rowe said. “She will not be suspended this year. She will receive full pay.”

Rowe also included that the Mercury may get roster flexibility depending on Griner’s situation.

“We can’t think anything about the WNBA this year without thinking about BG,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said.

Griner was initially detained in February when Russian authorities said they found hashish oil vape cartridges in her luggage.

Griner’s detention in Russia was extended until May 19th by a Moscow court and she could face up to 10 years in prison.

“It’s something that’s always on our minds,” general manager Jim Pitman said. “We want to make sure that we continue to focus on everything that we can do to get her home quickly.”

As that date creeps closer, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert also opened her introduction to the draft with a message about Griner.

“Please note that getting her home safely continues to be our top priority,” Engelbert said.

One way the Mercury is showing its love for Griner is keeping ‘BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive’ going this year.

Griner’s shoe drive has distributed more than 2,000 pairs of shoes to homeless people in Arizona.

According to ESPN’s Holly Rowe, every team in the league has committed to helping their communities in Griner’s name.

Players like Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot have already contributed too.

“It’s so wonderful to hear all of the players jumping right in to have her back,” Nygaard said. 

Throughout the night, the WNBA continued to show Griner support while college stars experienced what Griner accomplished in 2013 – getting drafted to the league.

“This was a straight-forward draft for us,” Pitman said. “Maya Dodson was someone we were really excited to have available at 26. We didn’t think she would drop to us.”

The Mercury drafted Notre Dame’s Dodson as well as IUPUI’s Macee Williams with the 36th overall pick of the 2022 WNBA Draft.

Williams is also the first ever WNBA draft pick out of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

“I think they’re two extremely talented players who’ve had a lot of success at the collegiate level and we think that they have a lot of potential,” Nygaard said. “We need some more depth at our post position and they both can do that.”

Outside of Griner, the team’s forwards on the roster are Tina Charles and Brianna Turner, so training camp will be competitive for the young guns earning their spots.

Dodson and Williams also match the versatile style of basketball Nygaard plans on playing.

“Maya is a shutdown defensive player,” Nygaard said. “We saw her match up against some of the best college post players and she guarded them one-on-one. Macee is just a weapon…a bit of an underdog. I’m an underdog so I’m always happy to get an underdog in there and see what they can bring in.”

Looking ahead, Phoenix will open the season by hosting Nygaard’s former team in the Las Vegas Aces on May 6th at 7:00pm.