The 2022 FIBA ​​World Championship will be the first major competition in which the US women’s basketball team will compete without Phoenix Mercury center Britney Griner since the 2012 Summer Olympics. The World Championship, which kicks off Wednesday in Sydney, will be a landmark event for the women’s basketball world, with one of the most recognizable stars of the last decade facing an uncertain future in a Russian prison.

Griner has been in detention since February, when she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. In the US, Griner was prescribed medical marijuana to relieve pain from chronic injuries, but it is illegal in Russia. She was sentenced to nine years in prison in August and is now awaiting the possibility of a U.S.-Russian prisoner swap with U.S. prisoner Paul Whelan.

- Advertisement -

“She really has [been a stalwart of USA Basketball] and that’s what our players have experienced throughout the season,” said U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx. We think of her every day and we will honor her. No one will be wearing 15. So just look for ways to keep making sure she knows what people think of her and what our players think of her every day.”

- Advertisement -

Drafted No. 1 in the 2013 WNBA Draft, Griner has enthusiastically competed on the US Senior Basketball Team since making the roster for the 2014 World Championship, which she played just a couple of weeks after winning the WNBA championship. . Mercury. At the Tokyo Olympics last year, Griner averaged 16.5 points, tied for the US lead with Las Vegas Aces forward A’Jay Wilson and grabbed 7.2 rebounds.

- Advertisement -

“She’s a big part of our fraternity,” said Seattle Storm defenseman Jewell Loyd, who was Griner’s teammate on the American team in Tokyo. “Getting to know her over the last couple of years has been great. She was just amazing for me and my family. And it’s just heartbreaking to know that she’s still there and she’s not here.

“So I think it’s a little extra motivation for everyone who gets on the court and knows her to play for her. Because she gave everything she had every time she was a part of any basketball team, and definitely US basketball.”

The Lynx’s Sylvia Fowles, Seattle’s Tina Charles, and Griner are seasoned centers who have long been standout players in the American domestic game. But none of them will play in this World Cup.

Fowles, who turns 37 next month, has retired, while Charles, 33, appears to have ended her U.S. basketball career. Fowles has won gold medals in four Olympics and one World Championships, while Charles has won three golds each. Griner, who turns 32 in October, has two gold medals in each event.

“To not have a BG here is obviously an irreplaceable void.”

Brianna Stewart on how Americans will miss Britney Griner at the Worlds

All three of these players are more traditional low block threats. The 6’9 Griner made 6 of 17 3-pointers in his WNBA career during the regular season, while the 6-6 Fowles made one attempt in 2010. Three-pointers have been a much larger part of Charles’s 6.-4 game since she hit 174 in the regular season. Charles is the only one of the three to hit a 3-pointer at the Olympics or the World Championship; she had three triples at the Tokyo Games.

Without that trio of 2022 WNBA MVPs, Wilson, 26, and Seattle forward Breanna Stewart, 28, are the most experienced postal players on the current U.S. roster. Wilson just won the WNBA title with the Aces on Sunday, 6-5, and will arrive in Australia late. Stewart led the United States in rebounding (10.0 rebounds) 6-4 at the Tokyo Games, where she averaged 15.0 points.

Newcomers to Team USA will be 22-year-old Shakira Austin, a 6-5 center/guard who just finished her debut season with the Washington Mystics, and Connecticut Sun 6-3 teammate Brionna Jones, 26, and forward 6-2 Alyssa. Thomas, 30, is the runner-up of this WNBA season.

They are all talented, but without Fowles, Charles and Griner, the United States would not have the same size and international experience. And while Fowles and Charles were not expected to be part of this American team, Griner was. “Obviously not having a BG here is an irreplaceable void,” Stewart said. “We really just hope she gets home as soon as possible, hoping that she is doing her best under the circumstances, but knowing that she has such a big role in USA Basketball, judging by the way she dominates the court and is caring person outside the court.

“It’s difficult because there are times when it feels like, ‘She should be here, she’ll be here’, and at the same time it’s more than basketball. The fact that she will be home safe and sound and return to her family is not. . 1 priority.”

Aside from the fact that no American wears Griner’s number on a jersey from past competitions, what will Team USA do to honor her memory? FIBA has some restrictions on political statements made during the event, and Americans are aware of this. But Griner’s colleagues at the WNBA see it as a humanitarian issue related to their colleague and friend.

Griner’s wife, Cherell Griner, met with President Biden on Friday to discuss what is being done to secure Griner’s release.

“I think we will continue to speak up, continue to strengthen her name, put maximum pressure on the White House,” Stewart said. “It was amazing that Sherel was able to meet with President Biden, and hopefully that means things are moving forward on getting her home.

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

Alexa Philippu of Sportzshala contributed to this report.