There was an outpouring of support and celebration on Thursday for Brittney Griner, who was released from Russia in a prisoner exchange after being wrongfully detained for 10 months, including from LSU head coach Kim Mulkey.
“God is good,” Mulkey told ESPN. “Prayers are powerful. Brittney is on her way home where she belongs. Our prayers remain with her and her family as they recover and heal together.”
Mulkey, who coached Griner in college at Baylor, had been under scrutiny for much of the last year for failing to publicly show her support for her former star athlete.
When asked in September by a reporter that he had not seen any comments from her about Griner, she replied, “And you won’t.”
Her only public comment appears to had come in June on the Tiger Rag podcast, in which she said, “I think that’s a personal issue. You just want everybody to come home safely. And I pray for Brittney, I want her home safely. I think there’s lots of people speaking out on her behalf. Those of us who don’t necessarily speak publicly about it certainly are praying for her.”
Griner, 32, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-year veteran for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Under Mulkey she led Baylor to a 40-0 season and national championship in 2012 while also winning National Player of the Year.
She was detained by Russian authorities in February on drug charges, alleging they found vape cannisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner, who plays in Russia professionally during the WNBA offseason, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison in August.
The U.S. State Department designated she was detained unlawfully in May while the Biden administration has been working on her release.
Griner’s release did not include Marine veteran Paul Whelan, whom is also unlawfully detained in Russia. President Biden insisted they would “keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”
Whelan’s brother, David, released a statement expressing that while disappointed Paul was not coming home, he was “so glad” for Griner’s release.
“The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home,” he said, per ESPN. “And to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”