Before FIBA ​​World Cup, Nurse recalls ‘difficult’ WNBA season without Griner

On August 1, Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison in Russia, Kia Nurse and her Phoenix Mercury teammates watched the heartbreaking court proceedings unfold on their phones during their dressing room.

Mercury hosted the Connecticut Sun later that day and the two teams locked hands in center court before the game for 42 seconds of tearful silence – a nod to Griner’s Phoenix shirt number.

“It was really hard to play that game. I don’t know how my teammates did it. It’s really hard to play a whole season without her,” Nurse said.

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Hamilton’s 26-year-old keeper returns to the Canadian national team at the FIBA ​​Women’s World Cup in Australia, her first official action since tearing the ACL in her right knee on June 6. October.

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The nurse held back tears on Monday as she recalled the darkest days of Mercury’s “hell on earth” season.

She talks about Griner, an eight-time WNBA star who was convicted of drug possession and trafficking after less than a gram of cannabis oil was found in her body. Package.

“How much is it without her on the pitch, without her spirit and energy on the side? and the fact that she still hasn’t come home is a bad thing. Did we do our best as a team to make sure that her story is told, to make sure that her name is shown as much as possible? but you go to practice and you wonder what she’s doing.”

Mercury continued Griner’s BG Heart and Sole Shoe Drive in her absence, touring all 12 WNBA markets.

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“We continue to keep her in our prayers, to keep her family in our prayers, to continue to make sure she knows that she is loved, and that she is not. neglected and put as much emphasis as possible on people capable of making the decisions that helped bring her home – because she was wrongly held there by all accounts,” Nurse said. .

The nurse’s knee injury made the past year the hardest year of her career.

“There have been a lot of great days, a lot of bad days, a lot of tears, a lot of anger, but also a lot of little victories along the way,” Nurse said during a Zoom media call from Sydney, Australia. . “I had the best physical process possible, my knees, she’s a great girl, I love her for that. But mentally, it’s hard. It was up and down and a roller coaster. “

She spent several months in home rehab in Ontario, relying on her boyfriend John Robinson IV and her family for support.

“John, poor boy, took all my good days, and he took away the heat of all my bad days,” laughs Nurse.

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She sought recovery advice from her brother Darnell, an Edmonton Oilers guard, and her uncle Donovan McNabb, a 13-year NFL veteran who also tore his ACL.

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“We’ve been through hell on earth this year as a team,” Nurse said. “And not being able to be out there with them is one of the hardest things and that’s where my patience gets very tough. Not as patient as I’d like, but it’s a process and up to this point, you can’t skip anything in the process.

“I’d love to skip the one-minute limit in this tournament, but I’m not allowed to.”

The Canadian women opened the FIBA ​​World Cup against Serbia on Thursday (11pm ET on Wednesday), then played 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 qualify, hopes to see her playing time increase with each match.

Team veteran Natalie Achonwa, who tore her ACL during her final season at Notre Dame, reassured Nurse that “there was 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 going back from there, I’ve been there, done it, and I realize the mental and emotional strain it goes into.

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“She deals with this every day and like we say, celebrates the little victories? but Kia dominated in practice and in our two show matches (compared to China and Puerto Rico). I am happy to see her again and share the court with her again. “

Physically, the 6-foot-tall Nurse said that since she was brought down to the gym for a lot of rehab, she’s been the strongest she’s ever been. She said she hasn’t forgotten how to pass, dribble or shoot, just can now do it all again at high speed.

Mentally, she says she’s learned she’s “really resilient.”

“I’ve always been told I’m a tough player, and I think a lot of that comes from just being able to throw my body around the floor, take a hit and come back,” she said. “This is the first time I have faced an injury of this magnitude, and for such a long time.

“Have I learned to be a better coach, and even a better professional athlete in terms of taking care of my body? it helped me figure out what’s best for me as a person. And hey, I’m a hell fighter. That’s what I learned.”

© 2022 Canadian Press

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