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After Brittney Griner’s conviction, silence from Kim Mulkey looms large

Brittney Griner and Kim Mulkey celebrate after Baylor’s national title win in 2012. (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: To close out the year, we are recognizing our best stories of 2022. This is the sixth in that series, originally published on Aug. 5. The other stories feature the NWSL’s journey to a historic CBA, Naomi Girma’s rise to stardom, the Indiana Fever’s new era, the rebirth of Indiana basketball and Kelsey Plum’s untold story.

Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for 169 days. On the 168th day, the WNBA star was convicted of drug smuggling charges by a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.

Many from throughout the world of sports have been vocal about her wrongful detention — including WNBA players as well as many coaches. One notable figure, though, has remained silent.

LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who coached Griner at Baylor, has not issued a public statement on her former player’s plight. During Griner’s time at Baylor from 2009-13, she helped the team to an undefeated season and a national championship, one of three Mulkey won during her 21-season tenure at the school.

Just Women’s Sports reached out to the LSU athletic department Thursday for comment from Mulkey on Griner’s conviction, but no statement was provided as of Friday. An athletic department spokesperson said he would reach out if Mulkey does release a statement.

While Griner’s college coach has not issued a statement, her alma mater has spoken out in support of the former Bears standout.

Baylor women’s basketball issued the following statement when Just Women’s Sports reached out for comment on Griner’s conviction: “With the unsettling news of the verdict and sentencing of Brittney Griner, we continue to pray for her ongoing strength and safety throughout her detainment. We recognize the extraordinary complexity of this situation, yet we remain hopeful of the day she will again set foot on U.S. ground.”

Baylor University put out a statement back in March when news of Griner’s detainment first became public, calling the news of Griner’s detainment “alarming.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with BG and her family,” the statement read. “Right now, our foremost concern is for her safety and well being during this difficult time in Russia and her eventual safe return to the United States.”

In July, the Baylor athletic department released a video in support of Griner, saying that the Baylor family “stands with Brittney” and that “it’s time to bring her home.”

Current Baylor coach Nicki Collen, who took over after Mulkey left for LSU in 2021, spoke out Thursday, writing on Twitter: “Prayers for BG’s safety and a plan to bring her home soon! I didn’t get the chance to coach BG but I got to coach against her, see her heart for her others up close, and I coach every single day at a place that she helped make great.”

Other collegiate head coaches have voiced their support. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has tweeted about Griner nearly every day since the news broke of her detainment.

“We will not stop advocating for [your] release,” Staley tweeted Thursday in the wake of Griner’s conviction. “Hold on to God unchanging hand. We love you, BG!”

In December 2021, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel wrote about a falling out between Griner and Mulkey that occurred back in 2013, after Griner told reporters that she was encouraged to keep quiet about her sexuality while at Baylor. While Griner said her comments were not directed toward Mulkey in particular, the comments still led to a rift in their relationship.

While Mulkey told ESPN last December that she “will always be grateful for what Griner did at the school,” the two were not in contact at the time of Voepel’s article.

Former Minnesota men’s basketball player Kendal Shell turned to Twitter to call out Mulkey’s silence on Griner’s detention.

“Kim Mulkey being silent while one of her own goes through this is very telling,” wrote Shell. “BG went to war for her and that Baylor program everyday. Too many coaches that only care about what you can do for them on the court but could care less about you as a human off the court.”

WNBA player Angel McCoughtry hit back at Shell, writing: “Let’s not do this! First of all. You don’t know how people deal with things. Maybe she’s in her prayer closet in silence. So let’s not judge before you know what’s going on.”

As McCoughtry points out, Mulkey could be lending her support to her former player in private, though the coach does maintain an active social media presence.

Regardless, Mulkey’s continued public silence about Griner’s detention in Russia is growing louder by the day.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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