Americans miss ‘gentle soul’

TOKYO, JP –  August 2: Brittney Griner #15 of the USA Women’s National Team rebounds during the game against the France Women’s National Team during the 2020 Olympics on August 2, 2021 at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, JP. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Ned Dishman / NBAE / Getty Images / Getty Images via AFP)

September 22, 2022

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — United States coach Cheryl Reeve admitted that the fate of “gentle soul” Brittney Griner was weighing heavily on her team in the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney and the jailed star’s No. 15 jersey would not be worn at the tournament.

Griner, a standout when they won gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year, would normally be with the squad as they attempt to claim a fourth straight title and 11th overall, starting Thursday against Belgium.

But the 31-year-old is instead in a Russian prison, sentenced to nine years in a penal colony after being arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing vape cartridges with a small amount of cannabis oil.

Reeve said Griner would be “top of mind” throughout the 10-day tournament and revealed players had been in touch with her to send messages of support.

“The mindset is just trying to stay strong for her and doing what we can,” Reeve said, describing Griner as “a gentle soul, just full of love.”

She added that players had been able to communicate with their teammate via email, sending “messages of love and support and strength.”

“It’s on their minds every day. It’s heavy, it is really, really heavy especially as we participate in this USA basketball competition,” she added.

“She’s such a big part of many of our lives, so it’s challenging.”

No USA team member will don Griner’s No. 15 jersey in Sydney.

“To keep Brittney top of mind, no one will wear the No. 15. That will be the first way to honor her and keep her in our thoughts,” Reeve said.

With Griner out, the Americans could begin their bid to win a fourth straight crown with just seven players, but Reeve is adamant they can cope.

Their 12-strong roster features five players who took part in the Women’s National Basketball Association Finals and are currently making the long trek to Australia.

The coach said the quintet — Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Brioona Jones and Alyssa Thomas — would be allowed to recharge and acclimatize after the Las Vegas Aces sealed the WNBA Finals 3-1 against the Connecticut Sun on Monday.

“We’re giving them the time that they need because they are making huge sacrifices to jump on a plane right after a grueling series and a grueling WNBA season,” Reeve said.

The USA coach said they would be short-handed for their opener against Belgium on Thursday and possibly again on Friday against Puerto Rico.

“A full roster has been named but whether all the players will be present, that is not likely,” Reeve said.

“It’s a fluid process and for me as a coach when they show up for practice, then I know they’re there.”

“For now, we’ll go with what we have and when some of those players start to come here, we’ll be able to get them up to speed very quickly.”

“I mean it’ll be a factor, for sure, the short-term situation. You get through those games as best you can and then obviously they’ll be able to feature a little bit more as the competition goes on.”

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