COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball coach Dawn Staley is responding to Thursday's decision by a Russian judge to sentence WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison.
Judge Anna Sotnikova found Griner guilty of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Sotnikova said the time Griner has served since her arrest in February would could toward her sentence.
Griner reacted to the sentence with little emotion. She listened to the verdict with a blank stare on her face.
Just minutes after the decision came down, Staley took to Twitter to respond, saying, "We will not stop advocating for you release. Hold on to God unchanging hand. We love you, BG."
Staley has been using her social platforms and other interviews to advocate for Griner, a seven-time WNBA all-star. Staley was Griner's coach on the Team USA's gold medal winning squad in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
She's repeatedly used the hashtag #FreeBrittneyGriner and has called for her release, as well as for media outlets to continue to highlight the case.
Gamecock legend and current WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson also chimed in, saying "Free BG!" on her Twitter account.
Before the unusually quick verdict was announced, an emotional Griner made a final appeal to the court for leniency. She said she had no intention to break the law by bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, her voice cracking. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Attention now turns to the possibility of a high-stakes prisoner swap that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Under the proposed deal, Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.
Russian officials have remained poker-faced about a possible deal and chafed at U.S. statements about the case, saying a possible deal should be discussed through “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information.”