EXCLUSIVE: ‘We knew nothing about it’: Texas female basketball player who was in Russia reveals she only found out about Brittney Griner’s arrest after returning to America last week – and says it’s ‘very possible’ she has been made a political target
- Brittney Griner was arrested in February as she touched back down in Russia
- She was on her way back to play for Russian team UMM Ekaterinburg
- No one in America knew about it until last week when her wife announced it
- Adaora Elonu was playing in Russia for a different team when Griner was arrested
- She told DailyMail.com no one in the basketball community knew about it until they returned to America
- She and Griner have known each other since they played against each other in high school and college
- Elonu, who is now home in Texas, fears like others that Griner has been made a political target because of the worsening tension between the US and Russia
American female basketball players in Russia were completely unaware Brittney Griner had been arrested until they returned to America last week – ten days after she was locked up, DailyMail.com can reveal.
Griner, 31, is in an unknown Russian jail after being arrested on suspicion of carrying a cannabis-filled vape on her way into the country. She had just touched back down in Moscow from New York during a break from play from her Russian team, UMM Ekaterinburg.
Russian authorities have not confirmed the exact date she was arrested but it is thought to have been February 17.
Griner is one of dozens of international female basketball stars who go to Russia in their off-seasons to play for local teams. They are paid more handsomely but it’s also a chance to keep themselves fit before returning to the WNBA.
After the war broke out, the US State Department issued an urgent warning to all Americans in Russia to get out.
All American female athletes heeded the advice. Griner – who was being paid $1.5million per season at UMM Ekaterinburg, six times her salary with the Phoenix Mercury, is now the only one in the country.
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Nigerian-American player Adaora Elonu told how Griner’s arrest was just as much of a mystery and surprise to the players in Russia as it has been in the US. She played for Nadezhda Orenburg but flew back on March 1st.
Brittney Griner is shown in her booking photo released by Russian state media after her arrest. It is shrouded in mystery and no one knows where the basketball star is now
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Nigerian-American player Adaora Elonu told how Griner’s arrest was just as much of a mystery and surprise to the players in Russia as it has been in the US. She played for Nadezhda Orenburg but flew back on March 1st
‘We left on March 1st, I flew Aeroflot to Istanbul and then back to Houston, and the first I heard about it was March 3rdm after I arrived back.
‘When we were in Russia, I wasn’t aware of it at all. At first I thought it was fake news then later on through the day it became real,’ she said.
She has known Griner for over a decade and often played against her in high school and college basketball.
‘Initially, I was just thinking “what happened?” She has so much experience and has been playing in Russia for a while. It can be surprising [that she was arrested]. You know, how? Why? Why this time?’ she asked.
Russian authorities claim Griner was travelling with the illegal vape pen in her carry-on but some skeptics say it’s possible they fabricated the charges and are making a political example of Griner to get back at Biden.
‘It’s very possible,’ Elonu said. ‘It’s very unfortunate. What’s occurring right now, it could very well be true.
‘I really hope that people here in the US can find a way to get her home. I’m not sure what’s being done – there’s not so much information out.
‘We can only hope and pray that things are happening behind the scenes,’ she said.
Elonu said it was surprising Griner would be arrested for carrying an illegal substance when she was so familiar with Russia, having played seven off seasons there. Griner is shown playing for UMM Ekaterinburg in 2019
UMMC Ekaterinburg – the team Griner was playing for – is backed by Andrei Kozitsyn, a mineral tycoon listed among Putin’s richest associates
Griner’s wife Cherelle has made few public comments about her incarceration.
Her agent Lindsay Colas told DailyMail.com: ‘We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA.
‘As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.’
Elonu described Griner as a ‘very pleasant’ and ‘kind’ athlete.
‘She’s not necessarily a jokester but she is very kind on the court.
Griner was seen putting her belongings through a scanner at the travel hub
‘She can be an aggressive player – she’s difficult to stop. She has a great sense of humor and she is fun to be around, I can attest to that. We never had discussions about it but I knew she played in Russia, I knew she enjoyed her team.’
She said she never expressed any fears about going to play in Russia or anywhere else, and that she loves the sport.
‘I think everyone is just very worried. Even my family. It’s just feels so close to home.’
The Biden administration says it is aware of Griner’s incarceration.
She is not the only American locked up in Russia amid the deepening conflict.
Trevor Reed, a 30-year-old Marine, also remains in custody. He was arrested in 2019 and was charged with assaulting two Russian police officers.
His family say the charges are bogus and that he’s being made an example of. He is desperately trying to get him home.
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