South Carolina, Stanford coaches use matchup to support Brittney Griner

STANFORD, Calif. – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer wore long-sleeved shirts in honor of Brittney Griner as part of a series of efforts to support the retained WNBA star during the game between their No. 1 teams vs. . No. 2 Sunday at Maples Pavilion.

The coaches gathered on court before the game for a moment of silence for Griner, who is imprisoned in Russia after being convicted of drug charges in August. The Phoenix Mercury Center was arrested in Moscow in February and is spending its 276th day in confinement as of Sunday.

Stanford also set up a letter-writing station in Maples Hall on Sunday to send cards to Griner and collect hundreds of messages.

“I went up and wrote a letter,” said Staley, who wore a “Free BG” cap after her Gamecocks won 76-71 in overtime. “Tara is leading this campaign on this particular campus and we both know Brittney. She’s part of our basketball family and she’s fighting for her life. I know there are other Americans who are being wrongfully detained, and of course we all want them to go home but if 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 were someone’s loved one, dear ones, you would fight for them. I really think there is a trailblazer that will pave the way for her to hopefully get home much sooner than many people expect. I am someone who will optimistically and prayerfully think she will be home soon.”

On the back of the T-shirts, which are designed by Playa Society and are expected to go on sale later this month, are a message to Griner that reads: “Dear BG: We love you and fight for you. Millions of us exalt your name every chance we get, and we will not stop until you are home. We hope that our love and support reach you and finally set you free.”

A portion of the profits from the sale of the shirts will go to the Bring Our Families Home campaign and the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, both of which champion the rights of Americans detained in other countries.

A video message in support of Griner was shown on the big screen shortly before the tip-off, and Stanford wore “BG” patches on his uniforms.

Griner won gold medals as part of the US Olympic women’s basketball team in 2016 and 2021, the latter when Staley coached the Americans. Staley played for VanDerveer when the Americans won the gold medal in 1996.

VanDerveer spoke before the game about some of her memories of Griner when she was with Baylor. Griner’s Bears squad ended a 40-0 NCAA title season in 2011-12 with a championship game victory over Stanford.

After the game, VanDerveer immediately brought up Griner in her press conference.

“It has been 276 days since Brittney Griner was imprisoned in Russia,” VanDerveer said. “Hopefully we paid some good attention to that. We said something every game and held a moment of silence for her. We need to get her home.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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