UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers uses ESPN appearance to speak about Brittney Griner

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Paige Bueckers of UConn reacts in the third quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game at Target Center on April 3, 2022 in Minneapolis.

Paige Bueckers of UConn reacts in the third quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game at Target Center on April 3, 2022 in Minneapolis.

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UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers concluded her debut on ESPN’s NBA Today by asking for time to give a message to President Joe Biden.

After ESPN’s Malika Andrews thanked Bueckers for being on the show Tuesday, Bueckers asked if she could add one more thing. She wanted to speak on Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17.

“Just a message to President Biden, the government and anybody with high enough power to help get Brittney Griner back home, I believe it’s way far due for her to come home and she’s an American, she’s a hero, she’s our sister in the WNBA and she’s just family to the whole United States,” Bueckers said. “Just whatever it takes to get her home, I think it’s definitely time.”

Griner went on trial Friday on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to Russia in February to play for her professional team. She was at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport when she got detained.

Her trial was adjourned until Thursday. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Prominent WNBA players — including former UConn star Breanna Stewart — have used social media to urge the Biden administration to act on Griner’s behalf. Bueckers wore a t-shirt that featured Griner’s image when UConn players attended a Seattle Storm-Connecticut Sun game last month at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Griner recently sent a hand-written letter to Biden, asking that he not “forget about me and the other American detainees.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that Biden read the letter.

“We are going to use every tool we possibly can to make that happen,” Jean-Pierre said.

Bueckers was featured on NBA Today to talk with Andrews about her plans for the summer, her work in the NIL space, and her friendships with fellow Minnesota natives Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall draft pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Andrews opened the interview by asking Bueckers what her response was to hearing UConn coach Geno Auriemma say she needed to spend the summer focusing on getting stronger.

“It’s hard because I’m a people pleaser and I love to do everything for other people and make sure that everybody else is taken care of but it was kinda eye-opening for him to say that to me just because I’m like, ‘Wow, I really do focus a lot on others,’” Bueckers said. “This is my first summer here healthy so just being able to work on my game, get stronger, be in the weight room a lot, work on my nutrition, just things like that.”

On June 28, Gatorade announced Bueckers was part of the brand’s first multi-athlete bottle collection. The collection featured personalized water bottles designed by Bueckers along with Trevor Lawrence, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Sydney McLaughlin.

Buekers became the first collegiate athlete to sign with Gatorade in November 2021.

On Tuesday, Andrews asked Bueckers how she’s used her partnership with Gatorade to help grow women’s basketball.

“With every NIL deal that I have my focus is on giving back and prioritizing equity on and off the court,” Bueckers said. “So, when I was first working with Gatorade there was a Gatorade ‘Fuel Tomorrow’ initiative which is helping younger kids and younger women and younger minorities have equal opportunities to play the game. So, that was huge for me in just giving back. I’ve seen how sports can change lives — so, it changed mine and it can save lives, change lives — so, I think it’s really important for everybody to get the same opportunities.”

Bueckers on watching Suggs, the No. 5 overall pick in 2021, and Holmgren begin their professional careers: “Just to see where we started in like the St. Louis Park High School gyms and I mean we weren’t really known at that point. We were still making our names for ourselves and each other so just to see where they are now, both going top five in the draft and both are in the NBA, is just surreal.”

Bueckers’ assessment of Holmgren’s game on the court: “He’s a unicorn. I mean a lot of the scouts say it. He does everything. He’s tall, 7-1 or 7-2, 7-foot-something, but you play one-on-one against each other and he’s impossible to score against so just his defensive presence that he’s gonna bring to the NBA and him being able to do everything on offense, it’s going to be good for the game and where he’s at.”