The United States players paid tribute to their friend and teammate by choosing not to wear her No.15 jersey. Traditionally, Team USA wears numbers four through 15, but instead remembers a player who has played such a big role on the national team since her first involvement in 2013.

“She is in our thoughts every day and we will honor her,” USA head coach Cheryl Reeve told ESPN. “No one will wear 15s. So just find ways to continue to make sure she knows she’s being thought of and our players are thinking of her every day.”

Griner played a pivotal role in Team USA’s dominance in the sport. The WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick in 2013 helped the United States win two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup gold medals.

“She’s a big part of our fraternity,” said Griner’s Olympic teammate Jewell Lloyd. “Getting to know her over the past two years has been amazing. She’s been nothing but amazing to me and my family. And it’s just heartbreaking to know that she’s still there and she’s never is not there.”

The start of the tournament comes a week after Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, met with US President Joe Biden to plead his wife’s case as the US negotiates the release of the WNBA star and the former US Marine Paul Whelan.

Griner was arrested in February for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage and pleaded guilty to drug charges, saying she accidentally packaged the drugs in a hurry. His legal team in Russia appealed the nine-year sentence.

Griner’s teammates and other WNBA players also showed solidarity with the eight-time All-Star by boycotting the game in Russia this offseason.

Many WNBA players supplement their salaries during the offseason by signing with European teams, including Russian teams who would pay more than $1 million per season – far more money than players would earn by staying in the United States.

But this winter players are refusing to sign with Russian teams, preferring to play for other clubs across Europe.

Breanna Stewart, who played with Griner for both the national team and the same team at Russian club Yekaterinburg, admitted it was not an easy decision.

“Honestly, my time in Russia was wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, no one is going there until she’s home,” the Seattle Storm forward said. . “I think we’re going to keep speaking out, keep amplifying his name, keep putting as much pressure on the White House as possible.

“It was amazing that Cherelle was able to meet President Biden, and I hope that means things continue to move forward to bring her home.

“But I think the best way to represent her and honor her is to win the gold medal.”

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