Brittney Griner is 'making huge progress,' but it's unfair to expect her to reach superstar status right away, her trainer says

Brittney Griner.

For the first time in 579 days — and after 10 months detained in Russia — Brittney Griner is returning to the hardwood.

The 6-foot-9 superstar is set to play in her first official WNBA game since 2021 on Friday night as her Phoenix Mercury take on the Los Angeles Sparks at Arena. Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard said in a recent press conference it's "just a miracle she is back" playing the sport she loves.

Mercury Head Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist Hannah Wengertsman knows just how much hard work has gone into Griner's comeback over the last five months. And while the perennial All-Star is "making huge progress," Wengertsman told Insider, she said that "it's also important to manage expectations."

"There's obviously going to be a lot of media around her first game," she said. "And I will say that the BG that you're going to see soon is not the same BG you saw when she last played in the Finals in 2021."

With 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game in 2021, Griner ended that season as an MVP contender. She made the All-WNBA first-team for the third time in her already-illustrious career and notched her eighth season as the league's leader in blocks.

Brittney Griner.

That level of skill doesn't just disappear. But spending the majority of 2022 confined to a prison cell thousands of miles from home represented an unprecedented setback for Griner and the staff tasked with bringing her up to speed.

"This was so unique because I had never really had an athlete come from doing 10-plus months of nothing," Wengertsman said. "So that was like really starting from the ground up."

They took it slow and stayed the course, with Wengertsman offering Griner pep talks through the moments of doubt. And they celebrated the small victories along the way, from Griner's first time running the length of the court to her first preseason game.

Brittney Griner handles the ball during a 2023 preseason game.
Griner handles the ball during a 2023 preseason game.AP Photo/Matt York

Griner's official first games back — Friday in Los Angeles and Sunday back home in Phoenix — will be the biggest milestones to date. The trainer who helped her get there couldn't be more excited.

"First I care about BG as a person, and so the fact that she's home safe reunited with her friends and family is the number-one priority," Wengertsman said. "And then seeing her back on the basketball court is just that much better."

"I'm so proud and excited to see all of the hard work she's put in over the last few months come to fruition."

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