STANFORD, Calif. – Before top-ranked South Carolina boarded the bus and left Maples Pavilion after a big win over No. 2 Stanford, coach Dawn Staley had her Gamecocks write letters to Brittney Griner.
On the arena concourse, a “Dear BG” table with an invitation to “Write a letter to Brittney Griner” collected hundreds of hand-written messages.
Staley and associate head coach Lisa Boyer made sure to stop Sunday, taking a moment to write to Griner. Then Staley and Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer each wore white long-sleeved T-shirts featuring Griner’s name and drawn image and a message on the back during South Carolina's 76-71 win in overtime in a match of the past two NCAA champions.
“Tara is leading this campaign on this particular campus and we both know Brittney,” Staley said. “She’s been part of our basketball family, and she’s in a fight for her life. I know there are other Americans that are wrongly detained and obviously we want them all to come home, but when you have a relationship and a friendship with someone, it’s personal.
“It’s a personal fight for us to bring her home, and every little bit counts. Every little bit, every letter. ... If it was anyone’s loved one, loved ones, you would fight for them. I do think there’s a way maker out there that’s going to make the way for her to get home a lot sooner hopefully than a lot of people expect. I’m one that’s going to think optimistically and prayerfully that she gets home soon,” she said.
A video message in support of Griner showed on the big screen shortly before tip-off. Stanford is wearing “BG” patches on its uniforms. Staley sported a “Free BG” cap.
Stanford has held a moment of silence for Griner at each home game so far. The 32-year-old Griner is serving a nine-year sentence for drug possession at a Russian penal colony.
Stephen Curry took a moment before the Golden State Warriors' championship ring ceremony on opening night Oct. 18 — also Griner's birthday — to bring attention to her case and offer support.
She was convicted Aug. 4 after Russian police said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. Her defense lawyers said she had been prescribed cannabis for pain. The WNBA star said she had inadvertently packed them and had no criminal intent.
Former Stanford star Jayne Appel-Marinelli, director of player relations for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, provided the specially made shirts.
“Huge for the women's basketball world to show support to bring Brittney Griner home,” Appel-Marinelli said by text message Sunday night.
The shirts are officially licensed by the WNBA and WNBPA and will benefit the Bring Our Families Home Campaign and Foley Foundation, available beginning Nov. 29. The movement focuses on all Americans considered to be wrongfully detained.
“We've been saying something every game, having a moment of silence for Brittney Griner,” VanDerveer said. “Jayne Appel got me this shirt, same thing with Dawn, wanting to bring attention to the situation that is just so hard for her to deal with. Maybe there's someone in the stands that can help. We need to bring her home.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25