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Diana Taurasi opens up about Brittney Griner’s WNBA return

Brittney Griner spent nearly 10 months imprisoned in Russia before her release on Dec. 8. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With less than a week until WNBA training camp opens, Brittney Griner is getting back to being the player she was before her wrongful imprisonment in Russia, according to Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi told ESPN on Tuesday that she thinks Griner has “gotten better” and progressed in training ahead of her 10th league season. Griner missed last season while she was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months on drug charges. After she was convicted and sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian penal colony, the 32-year-old was released in December via a prisoner swap negotiated by the Biden administration.

Upon her return home, Griner was quick to announce her intention to play for the Mercury this season, signing a one-year deal with the team in February.

“I think she’s gotten better,” Taurasi told ESPN on Tuesday. “Yeah, I think she’s progressed. I mean, when you don’t do anything for 10 months, yeah, it’s a long strain on your body — mentally, physically.

“But every week you just see her getting a little bit better.”

During scrimmages, Griner has shown glimpses of her old self, Taurasi says. The two won a WNBA championship together in 2014, and Griner has led the league in scoring twice in 2017 and 2019.

“You see her do things [and you’re like] ‘Oh, oh, OK. Spin move baseline. I remember that.’ Or getting a block,” Taurasi said. “So, there are all these little moments that she keeps stacking up and it’s going to be a big training camp for her to get back where she wants to go. But, we’re all here helping and hopefully we could all do it together.”

Having Griner back with the team, Taurasi says, has been “great.”

“I mean, there’s no one like her in women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “How she affects the game with her size, and I think what gets lost is how good she is on the block and all those things. …

“And she went through something that no one else has gone through. So, she’s going to have to find a way to navigate the attention, the eyes, the publicity, the mental strain of having all that and still getting back into basketball form. It’s a lot. It’s a lot. But hopefully when she comes here, this is home for her, right? It’s all she knows.”