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Brittney Griner latest: Phoenix Mercury get State Dept. briefing and Hall of Famer calls for release

By Kevin Dotson, CNN

US State Department officials met Monday with members of the Phoenix Mercury to update Brittney Griner’s WNBA teammates on her detention in Russia and efforts to bring her home.

“We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home. She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.”

In May, a State Department official told CNN that Griner has been officially classified as “wrongfully detained” and announced her case is being handled by the office of the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), Roger Carstens.

SPEHA officials were among those who met with the team Monday. The State Department said it had nothing further to share regarding the briefing.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian authorities of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Nygaard on Sunday extended an invitation to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to attend the team’s game when the Mercury visit the Washington Mystics on Tuesday.

“You’re welcome to come into our locker room and talk to us. You’re also welcome to just enjoy the game, you can see what our team looks like without Brittney Griner, but also we would just love to see you as a supporter of our team.

“And um, yeah, we have snacks in our locker room, we got all sorts of stuff that we would love to — honestly, you can sit on the bench, you can sit on the bench right next to me.”

Star guard Diana Taurasi said Monday that the State Department’s announcement that Griner’s detention was wrongful was a signal to the team.

“It’s something that we’ve all talked about intimately as a group and now knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,” Taurasi said. “Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put BG first will be our number one priority.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, gave her first interview last month since the arrest on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and said she speaks to Brittney “sporadically” through letters and she “absolutely” wants to speak to Biden about her detention.

READ: NBA star LeBron James on Brittney Griner’s detainment — ‘Our voice as athletes is stronger together’

Meanwhile, Penny Taylor, a former teammate of Griner’s at the Mercury and a three-time WNBA All-Star, used her Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday to call for Griner’s release.

Taylor had four separate stints playing for the Mercury throughout her 19-year career, winning three WNBA championships with the franchise before retiring in 2016.

“BG is our family,” Taylor said at the ceremony while asking for Biden’s help freeing Griner.

“She’s yours too,” she added. “The entire global sport community needs to come together to insist that she be a priority.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Steve Almasy and Jill Martin contributed to this report.

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