Brittney Griner weighed heavily on the mind of the U.S. women’s basketball team as they prepared for the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
The Americans have 10 championships in the World Cup and have won five of the last six tournaments, but the team is going to be without Griner after she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for taking vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis through a Moscow airport.
While Griner is imprisoned, she made a lasting impression on her teammates.
“I think we’re missing the fun-loving person that she was,” Breanna Stewart said Tuesday. “Someone who could bring a group together and was able to hold a conversation with anybody and that shows how grounded she is. The way she cared about people is something you don’t see all the time, especially in superstars. We miss her, and we hope she’ll be home soon.”
U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve echoed Stewart.
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“It’s on their minds every day. It’s heavy,” Reeve said. “It’s really, really heavy, especially as we participate in this USA Basketball competition. She’s such a big part of many of our lives. And so it’s challenging.”
Griner’s No. 15 will not be used by an American player. USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley told The Associated Press he thought it was the “best way” to honor the Phoenix Mercury star.
“I put it to our staff, and they liked the idea. Our numbering system is very sacred to us, and we’ve only used four to 15 in the history of our organization. Now we’re giving out 16 because we don’t want to give away Brittney’s 15 since she would have been here. It’s a small way to pay homage to her and that we’re thinking of her,” Tooley said.
Griner was on the last two World Cup teams.
“I think what’s going be the hardest part about it is … that first game,” Stewart added. “When we’re getting ready to go, when we’re getting our names called out for introductions, and she’s not there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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