(CNN) — After spending nearly 10 months imprisoned in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner is making her return to basketball in the upcoming season, signing a one-year deal with the Phoenix Mercury, the team announced on Tuesday.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was released in December — after spending nearly 300 days in Russian custody — in a prisoner exchange with Russia.
And as soon as she was back home, she vowed to play in the WNBA again.
“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” she wrote in a December post on Instagram. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” Griner said.
Mercury general manager Jim Pitman paid tribute to Griner upon her signing.
“We missed BG every day that she was gone and, while basketball was not our primary concern, her presence on the floor, in our locker room, around our organization, and within our community was greatly missed,” Pitman said in a statement.
“We will continue to use the resources of our organization to support her, on and off the floor, and we are thrilled for her that she gets to return to basketball, which she loves so dearly. This is a special signing and today is a special day for all of us.”
Griner — who for years had played in the WNBA off-season for a Russian women’s basketball team — was arrested on drug smuggling charges at an airport in the Moscow region in February 2022. Her detention, which became an international cause during a tense time in relations between the US and Russia, was deemed wrongful by American officials.
And despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil that was found in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.
The 32-year-old last played with the Mercury in 2021, helping lead the team to the WNBA Finals, which they lost to the Chicago Sky.
Before that, the seven-time All-Star had played all nine seasons with the franchise since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
Phoenix are scheduled to open the season on the road against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 19. The team will play their first home game against the Sky on May 21.
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