Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, who left the WNBA bubble in August last season, said Thursday that seeking mental-health treatment was very important in her return to basketball and is the reason she’s now feeling much better.
“With everything that was going on, everything I was dealing with, I just needed to take that leave,” Griner said. “I’ve never been shy [about] saying I definitely used counseling a lot when I left, and it’s helped me out tremendously. I think more people should be open to talking about mental-health issues. Instead of holding in so much.
“It’s done wonders for me. I’m in a place now where I feel amazing. I took that time to work on my body as well. The rehab on my knee and other parts of my body. I’m feeling good and ready to go now.”
Griner is taking part in a four-day USA Basketball training camp in Columbia, South Carolina, and did a Zoom call with media. She recently returned to overseas play with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, and will go back there after this camp.
The camp, on South Carolina’s campus, is overseen by Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, who is also the national team coach.
“It’s always good to see everybody here; it’s been a joy that I’ve missed,” Griner said. “We go against each other overseas, WNBA, in college. To be on the same team means a lot to me.”
Griner was leading the Mercury in scoring (17.7) and rebounding (7.5) when she exited the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, in late August, with the team citing “personal reasons.” The Mercury, 6-7 at the time, went on to finish 13-9 and make the WNBA playoffs.
Griner, who tuned 30 in October, said that she thinks the struggles that professional athletes, like everyone else, have with mental health can be partly helped with more transparency.
“One, just owning up to it and saying it,” Griner said. “We don’t talk about things, and in certain communities we really don’t talk about our feelings. It’s just, ‘Put it in a box and forget about it, push it to the back.’ That’s something I think has hurt us as a society. And it’s something that’s going to change with more athletes speaking up about it.”
Griner said that she also spent more time outdoors in Arizona, where she lives, to help her mindset.
“I went into nature; that’s where I feel most centered,” Griner said. “I did a lot of off-roading. Did some camping. Did some mechanic work to my jeep. That type of stuff really takes me back to my childhood, and it grounds me. It gives me a lot of joy, and it’s completely different than being on the court.”
Griner, the No. 1 pick of the 2013 WNBA draft out of Baylor, helped the Mercury to the 2014 league championship. Griner was part of the U.S. team that won gold in the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 and ’18 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“I’m anxious. I’m ready,” Griner said of looking forward to the upcoming Olympics, which were postponed by the pandemic in 2020. “I hope that everything can go as planned, and we’re able to go to Tokyo and go for gold.”
Regarding the Mercury, Griner said she was encouraged by the re-signing of free-agent veteran Diana Taurasi this week.
“She’s put in a lot of work on her body, a lot of work on the court,” Griner said of the 38-year-old Taurasi. “The day she does decide to leave [the WNBA] is going to be a very sad day. But that day hasn’t come yet, and I am very excited. Playing with Dee is amazing.”
Two other players who dealt with injuries that limited their play during last WNBA season, Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles (calf) and Chicago guard Diamond DeShields (leg), also spoke to the media from USA camp Thursday. DeShields, like Griner, opted to leave the bubble early. Both Fowles and DeShields said they are physically feeling fine now.
DeShields also was asked about the biggest free-agent signing thus far in 2021, as her Sky team added forward/center Candace Parker, who spent her previous 13 WNBA seasons in Los Angeles.
“We’ve been very close to reaching some major goals,” DeShields said of the Sky, who selected her No. 3 in the 2018 draft. “With a healthy roster and all the pieces we have coming back, you add Candace into that mix, it just increased our chances of really doing something special.”