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Fever’s top pick, former Baylor star Smith sends support to Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury warms up before Game 2 of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Sept. 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Mercury defeated the Aces 117-91. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana Fever rookie forward NaLyssa Smith, arguably the most decorated front court player from Baylor University since two-time National Player of the Year Brittney Griner, is set for her WNBA debut Friday night in Washington D.C., just miles from where United States government officials are busy attempting to free Griner from a Russian prison. 

On Tuesday, the State Department classified Griner’s detention by Russian authorities as “wrongful”, following her February arrest for allegedly attempting to smuggle a significant amount of narcotics through a Moscow airport.

Griner, a 7-time WNBA All-Star and key member of Phoenix’s 2014 championship team faces up to 10 years in prison. Her case is now being handled by a U.S. hostage affairs team (SPEHA).

Last month, Smith and Queen Egbo became the first pair of Baylor teammates drafted inside the top ten picks of the same WNBA draft. During her standout career with the Bears, Smith received encouragement from Griner as she chased her own WNBA dream. 

“I’m just praying for her everyday,” Smith told WISH-TV on Wednesday. “We had a little communication when she was in the league, and she was telling me things that I should work on, and we were always talking about we should get in the gym together and work out. I’m just hoping for her to come home, still praying for her, and can’t wait for her to get back.” 

Following Tuesday’s announcement from the State Department, an additional outpouring of support for Griner from around the WNBA made headlines across the country. 

Before the Fever departed for Washington, Head Coach Marianne Stanley reflected on what will remain the league’s most important story until a resolution is met. 

“(Earlier) for diplomatic reasons, we had been asked to be a little quieter and let the diplomatic people do what we do,” Stanley said. “But our league is firmly behind Brittany and getting her home as quickly as we can. She is one of the focal points of our league. She is an Olympian, a (WNBA) Champion, and we are just looking forward to the day when she is home safely.” 

In an effort to support Griner, each WNBA court will don her initials and No. 12 jersey number to begin the regular season.