The Mercury tipped-off its 2023 training camp with great vibes on day one thanks to Brittney Griner’s return to the hardwood.
“Felt good being back,” Griner said. “It’s everything I wanted it to be…It was funny because I was talking to two of the rookies and they asked me about coach and I was like, ‘Well, I was locked up, so I don’t really know too much.’ I guess I’m a little bit of a rookie in training camp right now.”
After her wrongful detainment in Russia that lasted 294 days, seeing Griner on the court again is not something to be taken lightly.
“I knew it would come eventually,” Griner said. “I didn’t know when it was gonna be. I had already made up my mind that October 25th, 2030, if it was the full nine [years], that would’ve been my release date. Would’ve been a lot different.”
“I don’t really live in like the fake optimism of the world that we live in, so I didn’t think she was coming back,” Diana Taurasi said. “I lived in Russia for 10 years. I’m glad it’s here.”
“Did you see her practicing today? It’s a miracle,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “Let’s not forget. I’m just so happy to see her today. Welcomed her back today. Almost cried.”
Few were more excited than her longtime running mate in Taurasi, who’s entering her 19th season in the WNBA.
“She was annoying as always, so she hasn’t lost that,” Taurasi joked. “I’m happy she’s back on the court. I’m happy to see her with a smile on her face. Now, it’s time to do a lot of work.”
“I knew the fossil comment was gonna get her but I had to,” Griner said. “How many times do you get to have one-up on ‘D’. I’m sure she’ll get me back a thousand times during the season.”
“The beauty about that is we’re all gonna get old, so I’ll be there when it’s her turn,” Taurasi responded.
Griner’s positivity has been felt across the franchise.
“To have her vibe, her smile, her warmth, and her experience is a total game-changer,” Sophie Cunningham said. “She’s the best in the world – just to have that presence back is awesome…People are happy. It’s a new year.”
“She’s easygoing,” Taurasi said. “Nothing ever gets BG low. To have that lightness is really nice.”
On the court, Griner has continued to build back up to full strength.
Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, Sophie Cunningham, & co. getting work in on Day 1 of #Mercury training camp:@Sports360AZ #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/kOskI4dANd
— Eliav Gabay (@eliavgabay) April 30, 2023
“We had a 100-day plan to get her back to today,” Nygaard said. “She was super diligent in that work and she was able to go fully through practice today. We’ll continue to push her as she can tolerate.”
“I know what I can do,” Griner said. “Am I where I want to be? No…As much as I want to be Finals BG right now, that’s not the case. Kind of giving myself some grace, and my teammates picking me up, but I feel like I’m at a good spot to start training camp.”
It’s not just Griner who’s playing catch-up, but new faces like Moriah Jefferson, and soon, Michaela Onyenwere, will need to mesh with their new teammates as well.
“Just getting to know everybody,” Griner said. “Finding where people want the ball, how they like it, do they want a screen, do they want an ISO, just all the little things until it becomes second nature when we’re out there…It’s kind of exciting – so many different personalities on the court, off the court. A lot of UNO nights coming up.”
“To me, it’s really looking around and seeing how each person can really fit a piece to the puzzle,” Taurasi said. “At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of little pieces, they’re all equally important to fill the puzzle and can we find those 11 or 12 players?”
If you’re wondering whether Griner will be ready for the season opener on May 19th against the Sparks, wonder no more.
“Hell yeah – I’m gonna be ready for that game,” Griner said. “It’ll be fun. I’m sure it’s gonna be just a lot being back at it. I’m really looking forward to that home game [May 21] – being in front of the X-Factor.”
If anyone knows about championshiop DNA, it’s Taurasi, and while hopes are always high, it comes down to a ‘brick-by-brick’ mentality for the league’s all-time scoring leader.
“Every single team is saying, ‘We want to win a championship,’ but if you look too far ahead, you might stumble,” Taurasi said. “I’m always about doing the work that’s right in front of you. If you deserve to be there, if you’re lucky enough, healthy enough, and you have a chance to win a championship, it’ll come your way.”
The next chance to hear from Griner and Taurasi will be Mercury media day on Wednesday, May 3rd.