(Reuters) – WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said on Sunday that getting U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner home from Russia, where she faces up to 10 years in prison on a drug charge, remains a top priority for the league.
Griner pleaded guilty to a drugs charge in a Russian court last week but denied she had intentionally broken the law. Her next court hearing was scheduled for July 14.
“Obviously we are thinking of Brittney Griner at this time,” Engelbert said in her opening remarks to media ahead of Sunday’s WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago.
“She remains a huge priority for us, continues to have our full support, fully focused on getting her home safely and as soon as possible of course.”
Griner was previously named an honorary starter for the All-Star Game and her initials and number will feature on the court and also on the back of the players’ warm-up shirts.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia, and has been kept in custody since.
The 31-year-old Griner, a centre for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association, has often played for a Russian professional team during the WNBA off-season to help supplement her income.
U.S. President Joe Biden last week told Griner’s wife that he is working to secure the player’s release from Russia as soon as possible, describing her detention on drug charges as “intolerable”.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)