As Brittney Griner’s detention continues, all-star center ‘continues to have our full support,’ WNBA’s Cathy Engelbert says ahead of draft

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert expressed concern Monday about Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner and said the league is doing everything it can to “bring her home.”

Engelbert addressed the media ahead of the league draft in New York and mentioned Griner — who was the league’s top pick in 2013 — right away in his opening remarks. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17 after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis-derived oil, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Russian media reported last month that Griner’s detention had been extended until at least May 19. The WNBA’s 26th season begins May 6.

“This is an unimaginable situation for BG,” Engelbert said. “She continues to have our full support. Certainly we are trying everything we can, from every angle, working with her legal representation, her agent, elected officials, administration. Just everyone in our ecosystem to trying to find ways to get it home safely and as quickly as possible.”

Engelbert said the league will work with the Mercury to support Griner’s philanthropic project, called BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, this season. The drive collected new or lightly used shoes for homeless people in the Phoenix area.

“It will take place in all 12 WNBA markets,” Engelbert said. “The activations we will be doing are meant to remind us of BG’s spirit of giving, and to do the work she would do if she were here, and the work she will join us in when she returns.”

Griner, 31, was the WNBA’s top pick over Baylor nine years ago and helped lead the Mercury to the league championship in 2014 and the WNBA Finals last season. She is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“Obviously we are in a very complex geopolitical situation with Russia, Ukraine,” Engelbert said. “We’re getting a ton of support from the government, from specialists. Her representation can visit Brittney, we know she’s safe. But we want to bring her home. We’re taking the advice… there’s no day that we’re not talking to someone who has an opinion on what we’ve done and how we’re moving forward.

“I know we’re all frustrated but we have to be patient. The players have been amazing following the advice they and we are getting so as not to compromise his safety in any way.”

Engelbert said she told the players the same thing she always said to her own daughter.

“I would go to the ends of the earth to help you if you have any problems,” Engelbert said. “And I say the same about Brittney Griner.”