Brittney Griner says she'll play for WNBA's Mercury in 2023

What does Brittney Griner's return mean for the WNBA? (1:29)

Becky Hammon explains the significance of Brittney Griner's announcement that she intends to rejoin the Mercury in 2023. (1:29)

Brittney Griner, who was released from a Russian prison last week and freed in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, said Friday she was "grateful" to be back in the United States and plans to be back on the basketball court for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season.

"It feels so good to be home!" Griner posted to Instagram on Friday in her first public statement since her release. "The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.

"... I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say 'thank you' to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon."

In her statement, Griner said she would "transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family," and a source confirmed to ESPN that Griner was flying from San Antonio to Phoenix on Friday.

Mercury general manager Jim Pitman, team president Vince Kozar and teammate Diana Taurasi were among those who surprised her on the tarmac in San Antonio, a source told ESPN's T.J. Quinn.

Griner had been staying with her wife, Cherelle, in a hotel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio since her return to the United States, reuniting with family members and deciding what to do with her freedom.

Griner, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil.

The U.S. State Department had declared Griner to be "wrongfully detained" -- a charge that Russia sharply rejected.

After months of strained negotiations, and an extraordinarily rare public revelation by the President Joe Biden's administration that it had made a "substantial proposal'' to get home Griner and another detained American, Paul Whelan, Griner's case resolved last week with a prisoner swap in which the WNBA star was exchanged in the United Arab Emirates for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Whelan's brother David said last week in a statement that he was "so glad'' for Griner's release but also disappointed for his family. He credited the White House with giving the Whelan family advance notice and said he did not fault officials for making the deal.

Agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas told ESPN earlier this week that Griner will work to raise attention for other Americans who are considered to be wrongfully detained in other countries, particularly Whelan, the former U.S. marine who has been in a Russian prison for four years on espionage charges.

"President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too," Griner said in her post Friday. "I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole."

Griner thanked the military staff and medical team in Texas, where she was receiving care. She wrote that she would "transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family'' but did not say where.

Colas told ESPN on Sunday that the 32-year-old Griner picked up a basketball for the first time in almost 10 months -- and dunked it.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said she was going to give Griner all the time she needed to decide whether she wanted to play basketball again.

The Mercury open the season on the road against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19. The team's first home game is two days later against the Chicago Sky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.