Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner said she received mental health counseling after leaving the WNBA bubble last summer in Bradenton, Florida.
Speaking about her departure for the first time Thursday while at a USA Basketball camp in South Carolina, Griner said her decision to leave the Mercury after 12 games was “a hard one to make. I never thought I would be in that situation. But with everything I was dealing with, I needed to take that leave. It took a lot for me to make that decision.
“I definitely used counseling a lot when I left. It’s helped me out tremendously. I think more people should be open to talking about mental health issues and finding that centerpiece with themselves. It’s done wonders for me. I’m at a place now where I feel amazing. I took that time to work on my body as well, get rehab on my knees and other parts of my body. I’m feeling good and ready to go now.” The 6-foot-9 Griner is back playing with her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg in the EuroLeague before what will be her ninth WNBA season, all with the Mercury. She also hopes to play in her second Olympics this year in Tokyo.
She has been All-WNBA first or second team five times, All-Defensive team six teams and is a two-time WNBA scoring leader. She leads the league in career blocks average and has records for single-game and single-season blocks. “Getting out of quarantine and being able to be on the court with everybody, it’s been a joy that I’ve missed,” she said. “Just being back on the court playing basketball and seeing everybody here (at the four-day U.S. camp). It means a lot to me especially. I’m anxious, I’m ready. I hope that everything goes to plan and we’re able to go over to Tokyo and go for gold because that’s always our goal with USA Basketball.” Griner played with the Mercury in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton through Aug. 19, averaging 17.7 points and 7.5 rebounds. After she left, the Mercury went on to finish 13-9 and reach the second round of the playoffs.
Griner said she returned to Phoenix and in addition to counseling did off-roading, camping and mechanic work on her jeep that “takes me back to childhood. It’s completely different from being on the court.” She said being open about her counseling is important for “giving a little girl or boy or anybody somebody to see vocally speaking on using the resources of speaking out, counseling, talking to somebody else. We really don’t talk about our feelings. Just put it in a box and forget about it, push it to the back. That’s something that hurts us as a society honestly and is something that’s going to change with more athletes speaking up about it.”
Griner, 30, said she worked out at Exos in Scottsdale leading up to her return to Russia late last year and has had a smooth transition back to the game.
“Once I hit the court in Russia, the coach did a great job bringing me back in slowly and making it easy for me,” she said. “I really haven’t had too many hiccups or any setbacks, just the normal catching my lungs running up and down the court. It’s hard to simulate that. But after the first week, it was great.”