Days after her release from a Russian penal colony, Brittney Griner hit a basketball court for the first time in 10 months, but it's unclear whether the Phoenix Mercury star will return to the WNBA.
Griner, who played basketball in Russia in the WNBA off-season, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after authorities said they found cartridges of cannabis oil in her luggage. In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.
She was freed Thursday after the Biden administration agreed to swap her for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquiring and exporting anti-aircraft missiles, and providing material support to a terrorist organization.
Since landing in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday, Griner and her wife, Cherelle, have been staying at a nearby military base, where family members reportedly visited on Saturday.
Griner's agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, told ESPN that the basketball star was dunking during a light workout over the weekend, but was yet to make a decision on whether she will return to the sport professionally.
"If she wants to play, it will be for her to share. She has the holidays to rest and decide what's next without any pressure," Colas said, adding that Griner would likely make a public statement later this week.
Fellow basketball players were hopeful Griner would return to the sport.
"We missed her last year, it just wasn't the same in the WNBA without her," Angel McCoughtry, a former Team USA teammate of Griner, told CNN.
"We don't start till May, so that gives her a couple of months to gather and get back in shape and get back in the groove … I think she'll play, if I had to give my opinion on it. I think she wants to get back out there and just feel loved again by the fans."
Criticism of Bout's release
Her release followed months of negotiations between U.S. and Russian officials, but the prisoner swap drew some criticism from Republicans, given Bout's history of supplying weapons to militias, warlords and the Taliban, which earned him the nickname "the Merchant of Death."
Former U.S. president Donald Trump on Sunday said he had rejected a proposed swap of Bout for former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, a Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years on espionage charges.
"I wouldn't have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with [Bout's] arms deals," Trump said on his social media site, Truth Social.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN that negotiations over Whelan's release were continuing.
"There was a very serious, specific proposal made to the Russians to try and get both of them [Griner and Whelan] out together and it just didn't land anywhere, it just didn't go anywhere with the Russians," Kirby said Sunday.
He added that Russia was "treating Paul very separately, very distinctly" to Griner because of the "sham" espionage charges on which he was jailed.
Griner focused on 'reintegrating'
It was unclear how much longer Griner would remain at the military base, or whether she planned to return to her Phoenix, Ariz., home, given the intense media attention she now faces in the U.S.
"She's reintegrating into a world that has changed for her now. From a pure security standpoint, she's not going to be able to move in the world the way she did," Colas told ESPN, adding that Griner planned to be an advocate for other Americans jailed overseas, particularly Whelan.
Russian TV on Friday aired video of Griner, her signature long hair cut short, working in a sewing workshop at the penal colony and dining at its cafeteria, as well as signing paperwork ahead of her release.
Griner's Russian attorney, Maria Blagovolina, told ESPN the basketball star had cut her hair two weeks earlier because it kept freezing after she washed it, due to the cold in Russia.
WATCH | Russian footage of Brittney Griner at penal colony:
Liz Frank, executive director of Hostage US, an organization that advocates for Americans jailed abroad, told CBC News Network that Griner would have undergone health checks upon her arrival in the U.S., and would receive medical treatment for any conditions resulting from her captivity, including malnutrition, sleep issues and other psychological impacts.
"It's a situation of anxiety and really high emotions for a constant 10 months," Frank said of Griner's imprisonment.
Frank said the knowledge of Whelan's continued captivity, and criticism of the prisoner swap, might also impact Griner's mental wellbeing.
"Some folks face that survivor guilt of being … the one that is released, recognizing that there's so many others who aren't you know so lucky today, and have to endure this."