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Brittney Griner on WNBA return: ‘More cobwebs than I thought’

(Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner made her unofficial return to WNBA competition on Friday night, playing 17 minutes and scoring 10 points in the Phoenix Mercury’s 90-71 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. It was Griner’s first WNBA game in 572 days after she was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months in 2022.

“I didn’t think I would be playing basketball this quickly,” Griner reflected post-game. “Even coming back, I didn’t know how it was going to go getting back into it. I mean, I’m grateful to be here for sure. I’m not going to take today for granted, but it was a lot to take in.”

Griner received a standing ovation from the crowd at Footprint Arena during her pre-game introduction. Many players on the visiting Sparks also stopped to give her a hug or to say hello.

“It is so good to have her back in this league,” said Curt Miller, the new head coach of the Sparks. “She is so talented. It doesn’t look like she missed a beat.”

Still, the eight-time WNBA All-Star was critical about her own play — especially her defensive effort — in her post-game comments.

“I knocked off some of the cobwebs. I guess there were a few more cobwebs than I thought,” Griner said with a laugh.

“I was happy with some of the shots that I took, but (on) defense, I’ve got to be a lot better. … Coach (Vanessa Nygaard) keeps telling me to give myself grace, but that’s hard.”

Nygaard echoed that sentiment. “This is a person who’s been off for more than a year here and she’s been battling and working really, really hard, but I thought she did some really good stuff,” she said.

The Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks meet again next week in the first official game of the 2023 WNBA season. That game, scheduled for Friday, May 19, tips off at arena at 8 pm PT / 11 pm ET (ESPN). The Mercury will then return home for team’s home opener against the Chicago Sky on Sunday, May 21.