The Phoenix Mercury continue to be without Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, but while the star center remains on their minds, they also know they have to move on with their preparation for the upcoming WNBA season.
"It's tough. We all are concerned about her," new Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday as training camp continued. "It is something that we think about, and we pray to make sure that she is safe and that she comes home quickly."
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Russian media reported in March that Griner's detention has been extended until at least May 19.
The WNBA's 26th season begins May 6.
"We feel confident that everything is being done to make sure that she can get back as quickly as possible, that everybody is working behind the scenes to make that happen," Nygaard said. "I definitely wake up sometimes in the middle of the night worried about BG. All we can do is keep doing what we're doing."
Nygaard was hired in January to replace Sandy Brondello, who in December was let go by the team after eight seasons (Brondello was later hired to coach the New York Liberty). Phoenix made the WNBA Finals last season but fell 3-1 in the best-of-five series to the Chicago Sky.
"Obviously, the way the year ended last year is still fresh in our minds," Mercury star Diana Taurasi said. "It's something that we think about, those little things in Game 4 that slipped are a constant reminder. So it's good to have that in the back of your mind. I think there's a lot of excitement in the building."
Griner, the No. 1 draft pick in 2013, has long praised Taurasi, the top pick by the Mercury in 2004, for her leadership and friendship. Taurasi did not have much to say about Griner on Monday, which could have been by design; many close to Griner think the less publicity given her situation, the better the outcome might be in Russia.
"It's a very delicate situation," said Taurasi, who played overseas earlier in her career. "I spent 10 years [in Russia], so I know the way things work there.
"It's a dangerous world everywhere you go. It might change the perspective of different [WNBA players] going overseas. That's a personal choice people are gonna have to make."
Added Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham: "We've just gotta keep praying for her. We hope she's well. And that's all we know. You guys know as much as we do. No one wants to be in her situation; we miss her like crazy."
Griner was the second-leading scorer (20.5 points per game) in the WNBA last year behind fellow center Tina Charles (23.4), who was with Washington. Charles came to Phoenix as a free agent this offseason and now will have an even bigger role than expected with Griner gone.
Like Taurasi and Griner, Charles was also a No. 1 draft pick (2010).
"I've known Tina for a long time," Taurasi said of her fellow UConn grad. "We've obviously played USA Basketball together, we played overseas together. She just brings a dynamic that we haven't had in the post where she can stretch the defense. So I'm excited to get on the court with her and get that synergy going."
As for her own decision to return this season at age 40, Taurasi said she's still excited about her job.
"I just try to prepare myself the best way during the offseason and go from there," she said. "I still have this competitive virus. I still love to play basketball. Things change as you get older, the work you have to put in gets harder."
Nygaard said while not having Griner will be difficult, the Mercury are prepared for it.
"It's not like we found out yesterday," Nygaard said. "So as a staff, we've adjusted -- knowing she wouldn't be here at least for the beginning of the season -- to change a little bit about what we do offensively and defensively. "And we'll be ready when she gets back. Her safe return is really what we are focused on."