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Courtney Vandersloot shares new details on Brittney Griner’s arrest

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 14: Courtney Vandersloot (L) #22 and Brittney Griner #42 of Team Stewart talk after a WNBA All-Star Game team practice at Michelob ULTRA Arena on July 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A new tell-all about the circumstances surrounding Brittney Griner’s detainment and arrest in Russia was released by ESPN on Friday, with Courtney Vandersloot revealing new details about the circumstances surrounding her teammate’s arrest and the immediate aftermath.

Griner declined to be interviewed in the article, although ESPN’s TJ Quinn spoke with a number of people close to the Phoenix Mercury star, including Vandersloot.

Following Griner’s arrest on Feb. 17, Griner’s Ekaterinburg teammates reported for practice on the 18th. Griner was absent, which wasn’t odd at first.

“It wouldn’t have been the first time that someone came late,” Vandersloot, who was Griner’s teammate in Russia for four seasons, told ESPN. “We all talked about it like, ‘OK, BG’s not here. We’ll see her tomorrow or the next day.'”

Both Vandersloot and her teammates said they were aware of rising tensions between the US and Russia, but felt safe returning to play in Russia because of the relationship between team owners and the Kremlin.

“We’re all hearing it because we’re reading American news and Western news in general, that Europeans are just as concerned, but whenever we brought it up to Russians, it was like, ‘Oh, this is normal. They’re always threatening this. You don’t understand, we’ve been living like this for 10 years,'” Vandersloot said. “It’s constantly, ‘We’re about to go to war.’ They were always downplaying it.”

Griner’s initial absence from practice wasn’t cause for alarm. Jonquel Jones, Griner’s closest friend on the team, didn’t know what was happening, but did tell teammates that Griner wasn’t responding to her. Vandersloot, as well as her wife and teammate Allie Quigley, was convinced that something was going on when it became clear that Griner wasn’t responding to any of her teammate’s texts.

“Allie asked [Griner’s] translator, ‘Where is BG?’ And she was really uncomfortable,” Vandersloot said. “You just knew something was up and she was just kind of trying to play it off.”

Five days later, on Feb. 23, the team was informed of Griner’s arrest by general manager Maxim Rybakov.

“He started the meeting with, like, ‘We have some serious issues to discuss.’ So we knew it was big and it probably had to do with BG,” Vandersloot said. “His face — he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

“He said, ‘We wanted you guys to all know that she’s been arrested for drugs.’ I feel like he even said, ‘a big amount of drugs.’ It was like a punch to the stomach. We all were like, we could throw up at any time as soon as we heard. I was like, no. No way. There has to be a mistake.”

Vandersloot said she was “so worried” about Griner being in jail, and couldn’t explain the feelings she was having. The team also had to go out and play a game right after being told.

“I can’t even explain the feeling I had in my stomach after that because I was so worried about BG being in jail,” she said. “I couldn’t even grasp that — how scared she must be, how lonely she must be. Those were the conversations we were having — I can’t believe that she’s in there. Now we have to go freaking play a game? You think we care about this game? All we’re worried about was our teammate, our friend. I remember not paying attention to the damn game at all.”

The assumption was that Griner would be released soon, that she “was a phone call away from being released.” Griner was especially popular in Russia. One teammate, Yevgenia Belyakova, noted that “everyone loves her.”

Of course, the reality was much different. It took almost a year for Griner to be released from Russian detainment.

Players on the team were told Griner was arrested for a “big amount of drugs.” But when Griner’s American teammates found out the true amount – which was no more than two vape cartridges – it was a relief.

Still, there was tension between the Russians and the Americans on the team, who didn’t understand how big of a deal drug possession was in the country.

“We were fighting against each other. I’m Russian, and I tried to explain why she really broke rules in Russia, why it is so difficult to do this,” Belyakova said. “I tried to explain to them how it works in Russia. It was me against everybody.”

“It wasn’t just her — it was all the other Russians, even the translator,” Vandersloot said. “It was almost like they were saying, ‘These are the rules,’ and we were like, ‘We don’t give a damn what the rules were.'”

Team owners also couldn’t do anything, because of the quantity of drugs.

“I remember them emphasizing this to us: ‘There’s nothing we can do because of the amount.’ I was like, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Vandersloot said. “Then I heard how much [the amount was] on the news. I was like, ‘Wow, this is what they were talking about? What a big amount is?’ I kind of lost confidence in their ability to impact this.”

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. Players were then advised to leave the country. One by one, foreign players opted to leave. Vandersloot said that it was hard knowing that they were leaving Griner behind.

“Do you know how s—ty that feels? How hard it is that we’re leaving, but we’re leaving something so important to us behind?” Vandersloot said. “It was so early we thought we were going to get out and then she’d be right behind us. We knew BG would want us to get out and be safe; that was definitely a discussion. But how do we just take off and go?”

Read the full ESPN report here, on the one-year anniversary of Griner’s release.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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