Phoenix Mercury star forward Brittney Griner is still stuck in Russia with the WNBA season set to start soon. Griner, who has been in the league since the 2013 season, was detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service in February on accusations of her carrying hashish oil in her luggage. Griner plays in the Russian Premier League in the WNBA offseason to make extra money.
While Griner’s pro career hasn’t quite matched the hype she had coming out of Baylor, Griner has been of the WNBA’s best forwards for a long time. When she returns it will make sports news, as the Mercury made a surprise run to the WNBA finals last year before being bounced by the Chicago Sky in four games. Here’s a look at notable events from what has been a productive career for Griner.
Hype Train Started Early
Griner, as a 6-foot-9 center, was unstoppable at the high school level. She set the national record by blocking 25 shots in a single game in 2008. During the 2008-09 season, Griner turned away 318 blocks and was chosen as an All-American in high school.
After receiving interest from all over the country, Griner would find a landing spot with the Baylor Bears.
Griner didn’t wait long to make a lasting impression at Baylor. During Griner’s freshman season, she set the NCAA record for blocks in a season with 223. Griner, who also became the seventh woman to dunk in a game, was able to set the record despite being suspended for two games for punching a Texas Tech player in March 2010.
The Bears would see a lot of team success with Griner, going to the Final Four during her freshman season before being upset in the Elite 8 by Texas Tech during her sophomore season.
Everything Comes Together
As a junior, Griner would average 23.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as Baylor, the preseason No. 1 ranked team, went wire-to-wire to capture the national championship. The Bears became the first program to finish the season 40-0.
Led by Griner, Baylor was dominant throughout the postseason, as the Bears won all of their games in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments by double figures.
Griner had a strong senior season, averaging 23.8 points per game, but Baylor didn’t quite have the spark as in previous years. The Bears finished 34-2 and were stunned by Louisville in the Sweet 16. Griner would then be selected No. 1 in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury.
Paired with veteran superstar Diana Taurasi, big things were expected from Phoenix’s future.
Great, But Not As Dominant
Griner took some time to settle into the WNBA. During her first four seasons in the league, she averaged 16 points or fewer points per game during each season. Until 2017, Griner didn’t average more than 20 points per game.
However, once Griner eclipsed the 20 points per game mark by finishing with a career-high 21.9 points per game in 2017, she would accomplish that during four of her next five seasons. For Griner’s career, she averages 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Griner’s career average of 2.8 blocks per game is a league record.
Champion and Team’s Playoff Shortcomings
Griner won her only championship in her second season as Phoenix swept the Chicago Sky in three games. She was excellent in the postseason, averaging 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game to help the Mercury win the title.
However, Phoenix’s team success in the playoffs has been lacking despite the Mercury making the playoffs every year since Griner arrived. Phoenix lost in the conference finals in 2013 and 2015, were eliminated in the semifinals in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and lost in the WNBA finals in 2021.
Overseas and International
Griner, who is a member of the USA women’s basketball team, won Olympic gold medals in 2016 and 2020. Internationally, she has played for professional teams in China and Russia. There is still no update on when Griner will be released, despite attempted interventions by the U.S. Government and pleas from the WNBA commissioner for help.