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WNBA Players Skipping Usual Off-Season Plans to Play in Russia amid Brittney Griner's Detention

People 9/21/2022 Natasha Dye

Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner © Provided by People Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner

Several WNBA stars who previously spent their offseasons playing in Russia alongside Brittney Griner have decided not to play in the country until the detained athlete is released.

Competing overseas is typical for WNBA players during the league's off-season, as the athletes often earn their biggest paychecks playing for international teams like Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg, where Griner had spent her winters since 2014.

Breanna Stewart, a former teammate of Griner's in Russia, opted to instead sign a contract with a team in Turkey this winter. The Seattle Storm star lamented having to make that decision, telling the Associated Press that her time on UMMC Ekaterinburg had been "wonderful."

"But especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody's going to go there until she's home. I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas, and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place."

Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo Phoenix Mercury rally for Brittney Griner on July 6 © Provided by People Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo Phoenix Mercury rally for Brittney Griner on July 6

Had she stayed with Russia, Stewart's salary would have greatly surpassed the one she will get in Turkey this winter. "You want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-the-court experience, and just continue to appreciate other countries," she said.

Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot enjoyed playing in Russia and may consider returning to the team in the future. "The thing about it is, we were treated so well by our club and made such strong relationships with those people, I would never close the door on that," she told the AP.

"The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to think that it's safe for anyone to go back there right now," added Vandersloot.

RELATED: Brittney Griner Is 'Stressed' in Russian Prison as She Awaits the Start of Her Appeal Hearings

Additionally, league newcomers without overseas experience of their own are considering Griner's situation when signing contracts this off-season. According to 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard, "Everyone's going to be a bit cautious seeing as this situation is happening."

Turkey's basketball team appears to be a popular alternative to Russia's, as several of Griner's former teammates have signed contracts since the end of their WNBA seasons. According to the AP, former Ekaterinburg players Jonquel Jones and Emma Meeseman will join Stewart on Turkey's team, Mersin.

RELATED VIDEO: Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison on Drug Possession Charges

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Aug. 4 on charges of smuggling drugs into the country, just below the maximum sentence of 10 years. After the trial, her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, had said the sentence was "absolutely unreasonable" and that she and Griner's legal team will file an appeal as soon as possible.

Blagovolina had previously told PEOPLE that they don't know if the appeal will be successful — and historically, appeals have not done much to change Russian prison sentences — but said that they have to try. "We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and appeal is one of these opportunities," she said.

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There is also still hope that Griner will be part of a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia. In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Biden administration said that they are in discussions with Russia to swap the WNBA star and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in the country, for a not-yet-named Russian prisoner held in the U.S.

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