USA Basketball said none of its players would wear the No. 15 at the Women’s World Cup when the tournament kicks off Thursday, in honor of Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug offenses in Russia last month.
Griner, who wore No. 15 in international competitions, helped the United States win two of their 10 gold medals at the quadrennial tournament, which runs this year through October 1 in Sydney.
“USA Basketball continues to keep BG on our minds as we step onto the court in Sydney. No US player will wear BG’s number 15 in her honor in this competition. #WeAreBG,” the sport’s national governing body said on Twitter.
US President Joe Biden met with the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner, last week and called the sentence against Griner “unacceptable.” The United States said in July it had made a “substantial offer” for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
Coach Cheryl Reeve admitted on Wednesday that the fate of “gentle soul” Griner is weighing heavily on the US team at this tournament.
Griner, a standout when they won gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year, would normally be in the squad as they attempt to clinch a fourth straight title and 11th overall, beginning against Belgium on Thursday.
Reeve said Griner would be “in top of mind” throughout the 10-day tournament and revealed players had been in touch with her to send messages of support.
“The mindset is just trying to stay strong for her and do what we can,” Reeve said, describing Griner as “a gentle soul, just full of love.”
She added that the players were able to communicate with their teammate via email, sending “messages of love, support and strength”.
“It keeps her busy every day. It’s hard, it’s really, really hard, especially since we’re in this basketball competition in the US,” she added.
“She’s such a big part of a lot of our lives, so it’s a challenge.”
Since being selected first overall by Baylor University in the 2013 WNBA draft, Griner has won the 2014 WNBA Finals, been named a WNBA All-Star eight times, has been a league leader twice, and has been included in multiple lists that highlighting the best in women’s basketball.
She has also won four gold medals with Team USA – including two at the Olympics and two at the World Championships.