Russian Basketball Testifies in Support of Brittney Griner and Other Statements Made About This Case

Russian Basketball Testifies in Support of Brittney Griner and Other Statements Made About This Case

It has been nearly five months since Brittney Griner was arrested and detained in Russia after Sheremetyevo Airport officials found vape canisters with cannabis oil in them. The nine-year WNBA veteran has been jailed since then and is facing a potential 10 years in Russian prison. 

Griner recently pleaded guilty in hopes of soon reaching a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, but it remains unclear when that would happen – if it happens, at all. On Thursday, her trial continued and while Griner was originally expected to testify, she didn’t. 

It was reported, however, that several of Griner’s peers from her Russian basketball team – UMMC Yekaterinburg – testified on her behalf. The trial is expected to continue on Friday as the US deepens their search for a solution. We must do whatever possible to bring her home.

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Notable Statements Being Made About the Brittney Griner Trial

Russian Basketball Testifies in Support of Brittney Griner and Other Statements Made About This Case
via Instagram (@cherelletgriner)

Among the few that testified on behalf of Brittney Griner was UMMC Yekaterinburg director, Maksim Ryabkov. “Today is the first day when we have seen our basketball player since February. Thank God, she feels well, looks good,” Rybakov told reporters after the session.

“Our task today was to tell the court about her characteristics as an athlete, as a person — tell about how she played a big role in the success of the Ektaerinburg club and Russian women’s basketball as a whole,” Rybakov added. It’s good to know that Griner isn’t alone in her battle. 

Evgenia Belyakova, a teammate of Brittney Griner, also testified. “I can say that Brittney has always been a very good teammate, so my role here is just to be with her, to support her. We miss her very much, we miss her energy. I was very happy to see her,” said Belyakova.

Let’s take a look at some of the other notable statements being made about the Brittney Griner trial recently. 

15. White House Press Secretary

During a White House daily briefing session, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the letter Brittney Griner sent to President Joe Biden – it’s just one of the many questions she has been asked, regarding the Brittney Griner trial, over the past few months. 

Her response included, “The President did read the letter, I was there when he read the letter.” She added that the administration believes Griner is being ‘wrongfully detained,’ which has been a recurring notion by the White House. “This is an issue that is a priority for the President.” 

14. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria V. Zakharova

Maria V. Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, recently put out a statement urging the United States to avoid putting pressure on Russia to take action. “Griner’s legal proceedings are ongoing, and until they conclude, it is premature to discuss any options of her return home,” she said. 

“We call on the U.S. authorities not to speculate on this sensitive matters that touch upon the fates of certain people, and we advise to give up futile attempts to exert pressure on us,” Zakharova added. “We call on the U.S. to concentrate on practical work through established channels. It simply won’t work otherwise.”

13. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, has made several headlines over the past few months as he answers questions about the Ukraine War and now the Brittney Griner trial. He reiterated that the Brittney Griner case was not politically-motivated, as many have suggested.

“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters. “Only the court can pass a verdict.”

12. LeBron James

LeBron James recently stirred the pot with a questionable statement he made during one of his The Shop episodes. “Now, how can she feel like America has her back?” James said. “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?'” His words received a lot of criticism. 

In a later social media post, James apologized, “My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome”

11. Enes Kanter Freedom

Of all the criticism LeBron James received for his comment, perhaps the most passionate one came from Enes Kanter Freedom – who is no stranger to being mistreated by his home country of Turkey. Freedom wanted to remind James not to take his freedom for granted, or else leave. 

In a tweet response, Freedom stated, “You call it a step back, we call this a walk back. You are free to leave buddy or you can even volunteer for an exchange for her. Some people literally have NO idea what is it like to live in a dictatorship.Keep taking your freedom for granted.”

10. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken

We have heard from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken several times, in regards to the Brittney Griner trial. A month ago, he mentioned “It’s something that I’m personally focused on” and ““There’s a limit to what I can say publicly. But we are very focused on this. We are determined to bring her home.”

He reiterated that statement a couple weeks later, saying “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority,” and most recently a few days ago, “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.”

9. Elizabeth Rood, US State Department

Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. Charge d`Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, had a chance to speak with Brittney Griner during the second day of the trial – noting that ‘she is eating well, she is able to read books, and under the circumstances she is doing well.”

“Most importantly, I was able to share with Ms. Griner a letter from President Biden and Ms. Griner was able to read that letter. I would like again to emphasize the commitment of the United States government, at the very highest level, to bring home safely Ms. Griner and all US citizens wrongfully detained,” she added. 

8. Former Governor Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson, New Mexico’s 30th Governor between 2003 and 2011, recently announced his intent to travel to Russia in hopes of progressing talks of a potential prisoner exchange. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations recently helped bring home Trevor Reed from Russia.

The Executive Director of The Richardson Center for Global Development recently commented on this decision. “What I can say [and is publicly known] is both the Whelan and Griner families have asked us to help with the release of their loved ones.” Let’s hope his efforts can help!

7. Alexander Boykov, Griner’s Attorney

Alexander Boykov, the lawyer representing Brittney Griner during her trial in Russia, has made several comments about the case over the past few months. For example, he’s the one who notified us that Griner’s pre-trial detention was being pushed back one month back in mid-May.

Most recently, Boykov commented about the guilty plea on day two of the trial. “She’s a responsible person and she admitted that it was hers, but she said that it was unintentionally brought to Russia because she was in a hurry as she was packing and it was just by accident,” he said.”

6. WNBA Players’ Association

The WNBA Players’ Association (WNBPA) released a statement on July 7th via their Twitter account. It read: 

“The WNBPA stands with Brittney Griner. With a 99% conviction rate, Russia’s process is its own. You can’t navigate it or even understand it like our own legal system. What we do know is that the US State Department determined that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained for a reason and will continue negotiating for her release regardless of the legal process. We’ll leave it at that.

The WNBPA stands with the 1100+ signatories on the Win With Black Women Network letter, the 40+ civil rights, human rights, LGBTQ+ organizations, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Greg Stanton, and we stand with the President and VP Harris. The administration needs to know that this powerful collective is behind them and supports whatever needs to be done to get BG, Paul Whelan, and other detained US nationals home right away.”

5. Brittney Griner’s Legal Team

On July 7th, Brittney Griner’s Russian legal team released a statement, providing an update on the case. “Today BG pleaded guilty. It was her decision informed by discussion with her legal defense team in Russia. Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people.”

It added that they expect the trial to conclude in about a month. “Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence,” her legal team continued.

4. Cherelle Griner

Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, has spoken out on several occasions in hopes of seeing her lover face-to-face for the first time in almost half a year. She recently spoke about President Joe Biden’s letter to Griner, which she apparently had a chance to read herself. 

“I was able to read the letter, and it brought me so much joy, as well as BG. I believe every word that she said to him he understood. And he sees her as a person, and he has not forgotten her, which was her biggest cry in her letter,” Cherelle said last week. Now we need to see action. 

3. Vanessa Nygaard

Vanessa Nygaard is a former WNBA player who currently coaches the Phoenix Mercury, the team Brittney Griner should be playing for right now. She has used her voice several times to spread awareness about the Brittney Griner trial and has been urging action from officials. 

“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more,” said Nygaard in an interview.

2. Brianna Turner

Brianna Turner is a forward for the Phoenix Mercury and a teammate of Brittney Griner. They have been teammates for the past four seasons, though they haven’t had a chance to play with each other this season. At a recent ‘Bring BG Home’ rally, she spoke about her friend. 

“I told her how she was going to be an honorary All-Star starter, and BG’s got a great sense of humor. She told me that she probably had the worst stat line because she wouldn’t be in the game. To know BG is to know such a nice person, such a giver,” Turner said at the rally. 

1. Torrey Craig

Torrey Craig is a friend of Brittney Griner and current NBA player for the Phoenix Suns – so he knows how much the Phoenix community means to Griner, and vice versa. He recently spoke about Griner at the same ‘Bring BG Home’ rally that Brianna Turner spoke at. 

He noted that he often puts himself in Griner’s shoes to try and understand what she’s going through right now. He urged fans to sign the petition for Griner, adding “President Biden, please help bring BG (Brittney Griner) home.” Let’s hope his words are echoed. 

Brittney Griner Makes Her Own Statement With Letter to Biden

Of all the statements we’ve heard from various sources close – and not-so-close – to the situation, none are more important than the one made by Brittney Griner herself. On July 4th, she penned a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden asking him not to forget about her. 

“Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!” she said. “I’m terrified I might be here forever.

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It’s terrible what Brittney Griner is going through and I can’t imagine how her friends and family feel – knowing there isn’t a whole lot that they can do. With that said, it’s encouraging to know that they’re doing everything possible and hopefully those efforts result in progress very soon.

Pat Summitt: Her Story and Many Accolades

Pat Summitt was born on June 14, 1952 to Richard and Hazel Albright Head in Clarkesville, Tennessee. Little did they know they just gave birth to one of the greatest coaches of all-time and she would accomplish it all in her home state of Tennessee – what a wonderful story. 

Growing up, Summitt was always a talented basketball player. In fact, her parents moved to Henrietta, Tennessee when she was in high school because Clarkesville didn’t have a women’s basketball team. It wasn’t long before she was playing for the University of Tennessee at Martin.

At UT-Martin, Summitt played for Nadine Gearin – the program’s first ever women’s basketball head coach. Between 1970 and 1974, she helped lead the UT-Martin Pacers to a 64-30 record and was the campus’ all-time leading scorer when she graduated with 1,405 career points.

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Pat Summitt & Her Legendary Coaching Career

Pat Summitt: Her Story and Many Accolades
Debby Wong / Shutterstock

Pat Summitt graduated from UT-Martin in 1974 and showed immediate interest in a coaching career. She was named a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee ahead of the 1974-75 women’s basketball season, but plans changed once the head coach suddenly quit.

In need of a head coach before the season started, the University of Tennessee offered the job to Summitt – it would be one of their greatest decisions in campus history. She took the job, even though it meant driving the van and washing uniforms – which she had no problem doing.

Summitt was only 22 years old when she became head coach of the Lady Vols and a lot of her players were around the same age as her. Over the next 40 years, Summitt would embark on a legendary coaching career that may never be duplicated – here are some of her highlights. 

15. 100% Student Athlete Graduation Rate

Pat Summitt was well known for turning good basketball players into great basketball players, but her influence went far beyond basketball. She was heavily invested in her college players off-the-court and wanted them to find as much success in school as they did in basketball.

During her 38-year career, Summitt saw 122 of her players complete their eligibility at the University of Tennessee. Of those 122, every single one of them earned a degree – a graduation rate of 100%. Summitt, herself, earned a master’s degree in physical education at UT. 

14. 39-0 Record During the 1997-98 Season

The 1997-98 season was Pat Summitt’s 24th year as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols – and, boy, was it a special one. They finished the season a perfect 39-0, starting the season as the No. 1 team in the nation and ending the year the same way. It was her only perfect season.

It was also the end to an incredible three-year run, in which the Lady Vols won the NCAA Tournament each year. Their perfect season was Summitt’s sixth national championship as head coach. Only one other coach – Geno Auriemma – led their team to three straight titles. 

13. 1,098 Career Wins as Head Coach

Pat Summitt finished her coaching career with a 1,098-208 record with Tennessee. At the time of her retirement, no other head coach had more – men’s or women’s. Today, she has the fourth most wins in NCAA history – behind Mike Krzesewski, Tara VanDerveer, and Geno Auriemma.

The wins came in bunches – literally winning 84% of the games she coached. Her team finished with at least 30 wins on 20 different occasions, which is remarkable considering she was known for scheduling difficult matchups during the regular season in preparation for the NCAA tourney.

12. 16-Time SEC Champion

Between 1974 and 1979, Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Ahead of the 1979-80 season, the Lady Vols joined the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and they owned the conference until Summitt retired in 2012.

During her 33 years in the SEC, Summitt led Tennessee to 16 SEC regular season titles (1980, 1985, 1990, 1993–1995, 1998, 1999–2004, 2007, 2010, 2011) and 16 SEC Tournament titles (1980, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010–2012). 

11. 31 Consecutive Trips to the NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament, also known as March Madness, is the focal point of the season – just making the tourney is an accomplishment in and of itself. While the men’s tournament dates back to 1939, it wasn’t until 1982 that they extended the tourney to women basketball teams. 

Between 1982 and 2012, the Lady Vols made 31 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament under Pat Summitt – that’s right, they made it every single year. If you were a player and you wanted a chance to shine on the biggest stage, playing under Summitt was the way to go. 

10. 18 Final Four Appearances

While making the NCAA tournament is an accomplishment in its own right, making it to the Final Four is next level and something only four teams get to experience every year. For Pat Summitt and her Tennessee Lady Vols, they got to experience the Final Four 18 times in a 31-year span. 

Their first Final Four appearance came during the 1981-82 season – the inaugural season for the women’s NCAA tournament. It goes to show that her methodology of scheduling tough games during the regular season paid off when it mattered most. Her team was always ready.

9. Eight-Time NCAA Tournament Champion

Of those 18 Final Four appearances, the Lady Vols advanced to the National Championship Game 13 times. And of those 13 trips to the finale, her Lady Vols were crowned champions on eight occasions – the third-most all-time, behind John Wooden (10) and Geno Auriemma (11).

Summitt’s first three national titles came in 1987, 1989, and 1991. They didn’t win again until 1996, but it was the start of three consecutive titles – winning again in 1997 and 1998 (perfect season). They would lose in 2003 and 2004, but won two-straight titles in 2007 and 2008. 

8. Eight-Time SEC Coach of the Year

In addition to her 16 SEC regular season and tournament wins, Pat Summitt was also named SEC Coach of the Year on eight occasions. She never won it back-to-back, but Summitt was consistently in the running – winning in 1993, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2011.

During her 33-year career in the SEC, Summitt went undefeated in conference play nine times – including three-straight (33-0) in 1993, 1994, and 1995. In 2011, her second-to-last year as head coach, she led the Lady Vols to a 16-0 perfect record in the SEC – a force to be reckoned with.

7. Five-Time Naismith College Coach of the Year

Winning Coach of the Year awards was commonplace for Pat Summitt during her coaching career. In addition to her eight SEC Coach of the Year honors, she was also named Naismith College Coach of the Year five times – one of 10 coaches to win the award multiple times.

In fact, Geno Auriemma is the only college basketball coach to win the award more than Summitt – he has won it eight times in his 38-year career. The only other women’s head coaches to win it multiple times are Dawn Staley, Tara VanDerveer, and Muffet McGraw

6. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 

On May 29, 2012, Pat Summitt was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama. The medal is deemed the “highest honor any civilian can receive in the United States” and it couldn’t have gone to someone more deserving than Pat.

In fact, it wasn’t the first time she had been invited to the White House. In addition to her visits with the Lady Vols after winning the championship, Summitt was invited to the White House by Hilary Clinton for a luncheon with 25 of the most influential working mothers in the US.

5. Naismith Coach of the Century in 2000

More than a decade before she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Pat Summitt was named the Naismith Coach of the Century in 2000. She won the award alongside Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, who was head coach of the UCLA Bruins between 1948 and 1975. 

Some other interesting accolades that cement Summitt’s legacy include being a No. 1 seed 21 times, earning 112 wins in the NCAA tournament, never coaching a losing season, coaching 161 scholarship players, producing 34 WNBA players, and producing 21 All-American players.

4. Two-Time Olympic Medalist

Pat Summitt is the only American to win an Olympic medal both as a player and as a head coach. She represented Team USA as a player between 1973 and 1976 – winning a gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games and a silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

That was just her first Olympic medal, though. In 1977, she started coaching Team USA and won several medals leading up to the 1985 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She led the team to a gold medal and finished her international career with a 63-4 record as coach of Team USA.

3. FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee

On June 19, 2013, Pat Summitt was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame – one of six Hall of Fames she has been inducted into. At the time of her induction, there were only two other female coaches in the FIBA Hall of Fame, which is a testament to her greatness as a coach.

As of 2022, she is one of six female coaches to be inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame – including Lidiya Alekseyeva, Kay Yow, Jan Stirling, Natália Hejková, and Tara VanDerveer. In total, there are 20 American male and female coaches and players in the FIBA Hall of Fame. 

2. Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee

Pat Summitt was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 1999. Her contributions as both a player and head coach helped change the landscape of women’s basketball forever. Her legacy and influence on the game will never be duplicated. 

Some of the greatest players that Pat Summitt developed include Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Bridgette Gordon, Tamika Catchings, Daedra Charles, Sheila Frost, Kara Lawson, Mary Ostrowski, Alexis Hornbuckle, and Semeka Randall. They are all-time greats. 

1. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee

In 2000, the same year she was named Naismith Coach of the Century with John Wooden, Pat Summitt was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – one of the biggest honors in the basketball community. She was also the NCAA tournament runner up in 2000.

Summitt has not only coached great players, but has seen a lot of those players (as well as assistants) go on to have successful coaching careers – including Nancy Darsch, Carolyn Peck, Sylvia Hatchell, Sharon Fanning, Jane Albright, Kara Lawson, and Jody Adams

There Will Never Be Another Pat Summitt

After 38 years of coaching, Summitt retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease the year prior. On June 28, 2016 – just two weeks after her 64th birthday – Summitt passed away at a senior living facility. The entirety of her estate was given to her son.

Since passing away, we’ve witnessed the opening of the Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic in the University of Tennessee Medical Center. The NCAA also has an annual award named after her – the Pat Summitt Award – which is given to individuals positively influencing college athletes. 

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Pat Summitt’s career was a legendary one – after all, she is regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all-time. In fact, some consider her at the top of that list and not just among basketball coaches, but coaches of any sport. There will never be another Pat Summitt.

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