SYDNEY (AP) — The absence of Brittney Griner weighs on the minds of her USA Basketball teammates, who are trying to fill the void created by her absence as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup.
The Americans are expected to win without the 6-foot-8 Griner, but replacing her spirit and impact on and off the court is a difficult task.
Griner has played for the United States in the last two Olympics, but she is not on the Australian team. The 31-year-old center is 9,000 miles away in a Russian prison after being sentenced last month to nine years in prison for drug possession.
“I think we miss the fun person she was,” American star Breanna Stewart said. “Someone who could pull a group together and was able to hold a conversation with anyone and that shows how grounded she is. The way she cared about people is something you don’t see all the time. , especially among the superstars. We miss her and we hope she will be home soon.
American players keep Griner in their thoughts by making sure no one wears his number 15. For years, Americans have worn jersey numbers 4-15. In the World Cup, they will use the 4-14 and the No 16 – which Brionna Jones will wear.
“The best way to honor him was not to give out his number,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley told The Associated Press. “I suggested it to our staff and they liked the idea. Our numbering system is very sacred to us and we have only used 4 to 15 in the history of our organization. Now we’re giving 16 because we don’t want to give Brittney’s 15 since she would have been here. It’s a small way to pay homage to her and that we think of her.
Tooley said he emailed Griner through his attorneys there is little time to let him know what USA Basketball was doing. He has known Griner since 2013 when she first arrived at an American training camp and thinks she would have been great with this young team that the Americans have.
“She enjoys every moment and makes everyone around her better,” Tooley said. “Since coming to the program in 2013, she’s been so present on and off the pitch. … She’s just a good person.
Griner was one of the team’s top scorers at the Tokyo Olympics, and her 6-foot-8 presence weighs heavily on American players even without her in Sydney.
“It’s on their minds every day. It’s heavy,” said USA coach Cheryl Reeve. “It’s really, really heavy, especially since we’re in this USA Basketball competition. She is such a big part of so many of our lives. And so it’s difficult.
Stewart echoed Reeve’s thoughts, saying it will be difficult when the Americans face Belgium to open the tournament.
“I think what’s going to be the hardest thing is…that first game,” Stewart said. “When we’re getting ready to leave, when we get our names for introductions, and she’s not there.”
It’s not just Americans who miss Griner in Australia. Kia Nurse, Griner’s teammate with the Phoenix Mercury and a member of Team Canada for the World Cup, broke down in tears while discussing Griner during a press briefing this week.
“BG is the best of the best when it comes to human beings,” she said of the eight-time All-Star. “It was a lot this season not having her on the pitch, not having her spirit, her energy around…and the fact that she’s not home yet is disheartening.”
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