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Baylor’s Nicki Collen shows support for Brittney Griner: ‘BG’s family’

(Darren Carroll/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Baylor women’s basketball coach Nicki Collen spoke at length about former Bears standout Brittney Griner on Monday, calling her detention in Russia a “human rights issue.”

Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for drug charges in August, more than six months after she initially was detained at a Russian airport in February.

Collen spoke for nearly five minutes after being asked about Griner, who played for Baylor from 2009-13 under former Bears coach Kim Mulkey before becoming a star in the WNBA. Her comments came on the same day Mulkey declined to comment on Griner’s plight.

“Those that have been around me know I get pretty emotional,” Collen said. “I think BG, first of all, is human first. I think this is a human rights issue. No one is saying she didn’t make a mistake. None of us are perfect. But I guess I would want to know if I did something and was stuck in a foreign country and what it was, what it wasn’t — I think we all know that 10 years is a long time.”

While some have called out Griner for a seeming lack of patriotism over her decision to kneel during the national anthem, those arguments don’t consider Griner as a person, Collen said.

“I see her as a mother, as a sister, as a spouse, as a daughter, as an unbelievable ambassador for the game of basketball,” she continued. “We can argue about kneeling or not kneeling all day long. Brittney Griner has worn that USA across her chest and won gold medals for this country. She’s represented Baylor. She was Baylor. She made Baylor a household name.

“She was one of the first people to reach out to me when I got this job and she was super excited about me getting the job, about us getting her back here.”

The Baylor coach also said the program would like to retire Griner’s jersey and have it “hanging in the rafters” at some point in the future. But for now, the team is in talks about ways that they can honor Griner during the upcoming season.

“BG is family. She’s Baylor family,” Collen said. “To me, anything we can do to help her and her family is important.”

One reporter brought up Mulkey, now the coach at LSU, and her choice not to comment on Griner. But rather than ask Collen to respond to Mulkey, the reporter asked the Baylor coach to address those who question Griner’s character.

Collen, who took over for Mulkey in 2021, also spent time coaching in the WNBA, and she said she got to know Griner by coaching against her.

“I think it’s easy to question people you don’t know,” she said. “And you don’t know their situation. And we can’t pretend to know if what was said in the court system was real or just part of the court system. It’s no different than people are told by lawyers over here to plead guilty because of certain things in the United States and the court system. It’s not my job to judge, quite frankly.

“And, knowing BG — knowing her, being around — her she’s a big kid. To know her is to love her. She just is one of those people that radiates joy.”