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Brittney Griner’s All-Star weekend: ‘She lights up the WNBA’

A year after WNBA All-Stars honored her while she was wrongfully detained in Russia, Brittney Griner was the only No. 42 in Las Vegas. (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — A few days before the All-Star Game, in a poetic sort of foreshadowing, Courtney Vandersloot decided to watch highlights of Brittney Griner dunking.

The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center has been known for the skill since her college days at Baylor, and Griner and Vandersloot have now both been in the league for a long time — a decade for Griner and 12 years for Vandersloot. They’ve played together overseas and against each other in the WNBA. Seeing Griner dunk brought back happy memories for the Liberty guard.

Last season, Vandersloot and the rest of the WNBA weren’t sure if they would see Griner again at all, let alone dunking on a basketball court.

But on July 9, she threw one down against the Sparks for her first of the season. And on Saturday, there she was again, dunking twice in the All-Star Game and adding a new highlight to the videos Vandersloot was watching.

Brittney Griner was back where she belonged.

“Just to see her smile again, she just lights up the WNBA community,” DeWanna Bonner said before the game. “I’m super excited that she gets to be back here and experience this.”

When Griner was announced, the Las Vegas crowd erupted into booming cheers. This time last year, she was still wrongfully detained in a Russian prison. Her presence was felt as the WNBA’s 2022 All-Stars honored Griner by all coming out in the second half wearing her No. 42 jersey.

But on Saturday, there was only one Griner jersey on the floor. The only one the WNBA needed.

It was a powerful, heartfelt moment. But that’s not why Griner was in Las Vegas. The Mercury center made her ninth All-Star appearance because, against all odds, she’s in the midst of an incredible season.

When Griner returned home, she promised to play basketball in 2023 but said it would take her time to get her footing once again. In reality, that hasn’t been the case.

In her first game of the season, Griner recorded 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two assists, and since then, she’s continued to stuff the stat sheet. The Mercury are struggling, currently second-to-last in the league standings with a 4-15 record, but Griner is not. She’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

Seeing Griner smiling, joking with teammates, interacting with fans and even eating bacon and snow cones on the sidelines during All-Star weekend served as a reminder of what was missing when she was gone. Brittney Griner the person is truly something special.

So is Brittney Griner the basketball player. Seeing her with a ball in her hand, wearing an All-Star jersey was just as impactful. And Griner has been impacting the game for years, dating back to her days at Baylor.

“She’s one of the best to ever do it,” Vandersloot said. “She’s unstoppable, unguardable. It’s incredible what she’s been able to do.”

In the All-Star Game, Griner put up 18 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.

From the sidelines, Stanford star and fellow post player Cameron Brink marveled at Griner’s skills. Brink grew up watching Griner, gleaning whatever she could from the center’s game.

“She’s iconic,” Brink said. “If she drops-steps, you better take charge or something, because you’re not stopping her. She has great body control, a great spin move. She just has a great package of footwork.”

Griner has served as inspiration for a generation of post players who have come behind her, many of whom are in the league now.

Ezi Magbegor still remembers the first time she had to guard Griner when Australia faced the United States in the 2018 FIBA World Cup. Now, the two are peers in the WNBA.

Despite being 6-9 and dominant in the paint, Griner doesn’t just rely on her size, something the 6-4 Magbegor admires.

“She’s not one-dimensional,” the Storm forward said. “She can shoot, and she moves up and down the floor really well. Her presence on the court defensively and offensively is felt, and that is something we all look up to. She’s brought a lot to the game.”

(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Griner has been consistent on the court from her time at Baylor — where she won an NCAA Championship and was named National Player of the Year in 2012 — to her WNBA career. Since the Mercury selected her with the top overall pick in 2013, Griner has won a WNBA Championship, been named an All-Star seven times and earned a spot on six All-WNBA Teams and seven All-WNBA Defensive Teams.

During her career, Griner has never averaged fewer than 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game — the numbers she put up during her rookie campaign.

With that kind of dominance, it comes as no surprise that after Saturday’s All-Star Game, Griner was asked what it would be like to play as an All-Star in Phoenix, the host site of the 2024 game.

There was no qualifying statement of “if you’re selected,” because Griner having another All-Star season feels like a foregone conclusion.

That’s what happens when, as Vandersloot said, you’re one of the best to ever do it.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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