Players show support for Griner, while political analysts describe sentence as 'expected'

Head coach of the Phoenix Mercury Vanessa Nygaard comments on Mercury's Brittney Griner being sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court.

News of WNBA star Brittney Griner's conviction in Russia on Thursday for drug possession and smuggling drew reaction from both the political and sports worlds.

Griner was sentenced to nine years after admitting to having vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage when she flew to Moscow to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg in February. She has been in detention since Feb. 17.

American President Joe Biden described the nine-year sentence as "unacceptable" and added: "Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney."

The WNBA and NBA released a joint statement, calling the Russian verdict as "unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected."

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has offered a deal to Russia aimed at bringing home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, in a sharp reversal of previous policy. Details of the proposal were not announced, though a person familiar with the matter said the U.S. has offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Financial Times Moscow bureau chief Max Seddon accurately predicted the sentence before it was handed down, describing the time Griner serves as "down to the success of a U.S. prisoner swap."

ESPN reporter T.J. Quinn called the sentence "expected," adding that it "moves her fate to the diplomatic world."

CNN national security reporter Natasha Bertrand indicated that Griner's lawyers plan to file an appeal on the grounds "the court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense."

Fellow WNBA players also reacted to the news, including Diamond DeShields, who like Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury. DeShields said seeing her "behind bars is breaking my heart."

American basketball Hall of Fame player and coach Dawn Staley said "we will not stop advocating for your release."

Jaden Ivey, who was drafted fifth overall by the Detroit Pistons of the NBA this summer, tweeted a succinct show of support: "Free BG."

With files from The Associated Press

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