June 24, 2015

Brittney Griner is eager to make her season debut this weekend in Minnesota after being entangled in a series of troubling off-court episodes.

The 6-foot-8 star will return to the Phoenix Mercury lineup Saturday having served her record seven-game suspension after a domestic violence arrest in April.

''Basketball is my safe zone, being back on the court means everything for me, basketball is my life,'' Griner said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. ''I'm ready to go. I definitely have been watching and I have been doing everything off the court to be on the court.''

Besides the WNBA suspension, Griner pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to undergo 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. If she completes it, the charges will be dismissed. Griner and her then-fiancee Glory Johnson were arrested on April 22 at their home in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear.

It's been a crazy nine months for Griner since she helped the Mercury win the WNBA championship last September. First, she was the victim of a random knife attack in China, where she suffered a small cut when she was struck by a man while boarding a bus after practice last November.

Then there was the soap opera of the past few months with Johnson. The two All-Stars were arrested and then married a few weeks later. On June 4, Johnson announced via Instagram that she was pregnant through in vitro fertilization. A day later Griner said she was filing for an annulment.

Griner said her largest takeaway from the whirlwind six weeks was to ''listen to your gut. That's kind of like the biggest thing right now. If you see warning signs, listen to your gut. Get that gut feeling, take a step back.''

Because of the still pending court case and her plea bargain, Griner couldn't say much about the arrest.

Griner isn't done making news off the court. She'll be baring all in the ESPN Body Issue that comes out next month.

''It was my first time, posing and being naked. It was fun, had a blast,'' Griner said. ''I'd definitely do it again.''

Griner said the decision to pose nude came well before the April arrest.

Last season's defensive player of the year isn't the only one happy she's playing again.

''We're so thrilled she's coming back,'' WNBA President Laurel J. Richie told The Associated Press. ''I've read her comments and spoken to her. She understood our decision. She drew great strength from being with her teammates and working hard. She will be ready to come back and is excited to come back. I hope our fans will welcome her back.''

Griner has been able to practice with the team, and she said she's been playing 3-on-3 full court to get in game shape. She will meet the Mercury in Minnesota on Friday. Phoenix plays San Antonio on Thursday in the final game of her suspension. The Mercury are 3-3 without their All-Star.

''It's a bittersweet thing watching them,'' Griner said. ''I don't like watching but it is kinda cool when you watch a game you can see what coaches point out, and it will help make me a better player.''

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello was happy to have Griner back.

''We're definitely a different team with her in the middle,'' she said. ''The good news, at least, is that even though she was suspended, she was able to practice with us so she's already familiar with this group.''


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