Brittney Griner reunites with Baylor in return to home state

ARLINGTON, Texas — The warm welcome Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner received Wednesday night in her home state of Texas came with something else — a promise from Baylor women’s basketball coach Nicki Collen that Griner’s jersey will eventually be retired by her alma mater.

“That’s the goal,” Collen said. “We are opening a new arena. There’s no doubt I want to see her jersey under the rafters.” Slated to open in January 2024, the Foster Pavilion will replace the Ferrell Center as the home of Baylor’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Griner and the Mercury lost 84-79 to the Dallas Wings Wednesday night at College Park Center, just 97 miles from Waco, Texas, where she played with Baylor from 2009-13. Griner, who had 24 points, was frustrated with a loss that dropped Mercury ratings to 4-1, but it didn’t take away from how much she enjoyed being at home and playing in front of the current Baylor women’s team, among others.

“I played my best basketball there, met some really great people there, and met my wife there,” Griner said of Baylor. “I can’t wait to come back. It’s safe to say I’ll never go abroad to play ball again, so I’ll actually be able to watch games in the off-season. Just walk down the same halls I’ve walked through.”

“It was amazing to have that [the Baylor team] Here. I was really, really, really, really happy to see the Baylor team. It meant a lot to us to have her here.”

All of the current Bears were kids when Griner led Baylor to a 40-0 season in the national championship in 2012. But they’ve followed her in the WNBA, and Collen said her players were a little impressed when they met Griner ahead of Wednesday’s game.

Phoenix has been Griner’s primary home since the Mercury drafted her No. 1 overall in 2013, but she is originally from Houston and grew up there.

Griner said it was emotional to play in Texas for the first time since her incarceration in Russia last year. Griner felt the surge of affection from the fans, just as she has in Phoenix and on other road trips so far. But it hit her even harder because the Lone Star State is her home.

She said in addition to the Baylor squad, her high school coach, her AAU team, her wife and many family members were in attendance.

“It was nice to see everyone and just be back in Texas. I miss being here. When I came out and they announced my name, love meant a lot to me.”

Brittney Griner, returning to Texas

“Just a lot of support. It was nice to see everyone and just be back in Texas,” said Griner, who will be here for a few more days as the Wings host the Mercury again on Friday. “I miss being here. When I came out and they announced my name, love meant a lot to me.”

Griner averaged 3,283 points, 1,305 rebounds and an NCAA-record 748 blocks at Baylor, which helped the program to two Final Fours. Another member of the 2012 Baylor championship team, guard Odyssey Sims, was also on the floor Wednesday, having been signed from Dallas as a substitute earlier in the day. Kalani Brown, a star center for the 2019 Baylor national team, also plays for the Wings, making the game a Baylor reunion of sorts.

“I love Baylor,” Griner said. “Without that, I can’t get where I am.”

But despite Griner’s status as the top player in program history, her No. 42 isn’t being retired from school. Former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Griner had a falling out after Griner graduated from college. Mulkey also said for several years that Griner’s number could not be retired until after it was officially completed.

Griner confirmed that she has since received her college degree. And in 2021, Mulkey left Baylor, where she won three NCAA titles, for LSU, which won the championship that year.

Collen, who coached against Griner as both a WNBA head coach and an assistant, took over at Baylor in May 2021. Almost immediately, Collen spoke of her hopes of renewing Griner and Baylor’s relationship.

Griner told ESPN in December 2021 that she plans to visit Baylor soon and is anxious to reconnect with her alma mater. Then, in February 2022, Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport while returning to Russia to continue her basketball season abroad with UMMC Ekaterinburg. Russian customs officers said they found e-cigarette canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage, which she later admitted in court, saying she had no criminal intent and packed them in a hurry.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison last August, but was released in December through a prisoner swap negotiated between the United States and the Russian government. Since then, Griner has received several very emotional WNBA salutes: on May 19 in Los Angeles when the Mercury played their season opener; May 21 when the Mercury had their home debut; and now here in texas.

“This game meant a lot to me,” Griner said. “I really wanted that [win]. We have another shot at them another day.”

She was asked what it means to hear opposing players, including Dallas stars Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, talk about how glad they are that she’s back, as well as the Wings and all WNBA teams supporting Griner’s mission to help the Bring Our Families Home is an organization that helps those whose loved ones are imprisoned abroad.

“Yes, we go against each other, but we care about the other person,” Griner said of her WNBA peers. “We hear different causes that people play for and we all come together to help one another.”

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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