For Brittney Griner, this WNBA season has and will continue to feature many long-awaited returns. When she took to the field for the game between Phoenix Mercury and the Dallas Wings on Wednesday, the 32-year-old checked off a special player on the list.
Playing in her home country for the first time since being held in a Russian prison for 10 months, she recorded 24 points in the Mercurys’ 84-79 loss to the Wings at College Park Center in Arlington. , in Texas. The stadium is just under two hours from Baylor, where she played from 2009 to 2013.
As the loss reduced the Mercury’s record to 1-4 for the season, the Houston native had a few reasons to smile during the postgame press conference.
As well as returning home with a promise of eventually retiring her shirt at Baylor, she received a standing ovation from the fans during her pre-match introduction.
After the loss, Griner told reporters the “love” she felt when she walked into court was touching. “That game meant a lot,” Griner said. “I really wanted to have it [win]. We have another chance to shoot them another day.”
Griner notched an NCAA record 748 blocks at Baylor. She also recorded 3,283 points and 1,305 rebounds in helping the program qualify for the Final Four twice.
At the end of her time there, she fell out with current LSU head coach Kim Mulkey. When Mulkey was still head coach at Baylor, she insisted Griner’s No. 42 jersey couldn’t stay in the rafters until she graduated.
Mulkey left to lead LSU to a title last season, and Griner officially graduated. Nicki Collen took over at Baylor in May 2021. She faced Griner as head coach and opposing WNBA assistant, and she sees no reason why her jersey shouldn’t be retired.
“That’s the goal,” she said. “We are opening a new arena. There is no doubt that I want to see his jersey in the rafters.”
The Foster Pavilion is scheduled to open in January 2024 to house Baylor’s two basketball teams. As Griner expressed her gratitude and appreciation for Texas, Baylor and her fans, she emphasized that there was no bad blood with her alma mater.
“I know a lot of people think it’s a hate relationship or something and it’s not. It’s not a hate relationship. I played some of my best basketball there “, she said. said during the post-match press conference.
Griner has an opportunity to play even more basketball when she and the Mercury face the Wings again on Friday looking for their second win of the season.