Ahead of FIBA World Cup, Kia Nurse recalls ‘hell on earth’ WNBA season without Griner
On the day in early August Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, Kia Nurse and her Phoenix Mercury teammates watched the harrowing legal proceedings unfold on their phones in their locker room.
The Mercury hosted the Connecticut Sun later in the day, and the two teams hugged each other on center court before the game for a tearful 42-second silence — a nod to Griner’s Phoenix jersey number.
“It was really tough to play that game. I don’t know how my teammates did. It was really tough to play an entire season without her,” Nurse said.
The 26-year-old Hamilton guard returns to Canada’s national team at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia, her first official action since tore the ACL in her right knee on October 6.
The nurse fought back tears on Monday as she recalled the darkest days of the “hell on earth” season for the Mercury.
“BG is the best of the best when it comes to human beings,” she said of eight-time WNBA star Griner, who was convicted of drug possession and smuggling after finding less of one gram of cannabis oil in it. luggage.
“It was a lot this season not having her on the pitch, not having her spirit, her energy and the fact that she’s not home yet is disheartening. We did our best as a team. to make sure her story is told, to make sure her name is as visible as possible, but you go to training and you wonder what she’s doing.”
The Mercury continued Griner’s BG Heart and Sole Shoe Drive in his absence, visiting all 12 WNBA markets.
“Help her bring her home”
“We continue to keep her in our prayers, to keep her family in our prayers, to make sure she knows she is loved and not forgotten and to put as much emphasis as possible on those who have the power to make decisions to help bring her home — because she’s wrongly being held there, obviously,” Nurse said.
Nurse’s knee injury had already made this past year the toughest of her career.
“There have been a lot of good days, a lot of bad days, a lot of tears, a lot of anger, but also a lot of small wins along the way,” Nurse said in a Zoom news release from Sydney, Australia. “I’ve had the smoothest process physically, my knee, she’s a great girl, I love her for that. But just, mentally, it’s been tough. It’s been ups and downs and Russian mountains.”
She spent several months of her rehab at her home in Ontario, relying on her boyfriend John Robinson IV and his family for support.
WATCH | Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison:
“John, poor guy, took all my good days, and he took the heat off all my bad days,” Nurse laughed.
She sought advice from her brother Darnell, an Edmonton Oilers defenseman, and her uncle Donovan McNabb, a 13-year-old NFL veteran who also tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
“We’ve been through hell on earth this year as a team,” Nurse said. “And not being able to be there with them was one of the hardest things and that’s where my patience got really taxed. Not as patient as I would have liked but it’s a process and even then you can’t skip anything in this process.
“As much as I’d love to skip a minute restriction in this tournament, I’m not allowed to.”
The Canadians open the FIBA Basketball World Cup against Serbia on Thursday (11 p.m. ET Wednesday), then face France, Japan, Australia and Mali in the group stage. Nurse, who last played for the national team at the Tokyo Olympics where Canada failed to make it out of the preliminary round, hopes to see her playing time increase with each game.
Team veteran Natalie Achonwa, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament during her senior season at Notre Dame, reassured Nurse that “there’s no weight on her shoulders.”
“She looks great,” Achonwa said. “I tell Kia every day that she just needs to be her. Especially going through a process like tearing an ACL and coming back, I’ve been there, done that and I realize the mental strain and emotional it takes.
“She tackled this every day and it’s like they say, let’s celebrate the small wins ΓÇª but Kia dominated in training and in our two exhibition games (against China and Puerto Rico). J I was just so happy to see her and share the yard with her again.”
Physically, the six-foot nurse said that since being relegated to the weight room for much of her rehabilitation, she is the strongest she has ever been. She said she hasn’t forgotten how to pass, dribble or shoot, now it’s about being able to do it all again at high speed.
Mentally, she said she learned she was “really resilient”.
“I’ve always been told I’m a tough player, and I think a lot of that comes down to just the ability to throw my body down, take a hit and get back up,” she said. declared. “It’s the first time I’ve had to deal with an injury of this magnitude and duration.
“I’ve learned to be an even better coach, and an even better professional athlete in terms of taking care of my body, it’s helped me figure out what’s best for me as a person. And hey, I’m a hell of a fighter. That’s what I learned.”