ESPN Reporter M.A. Voepel 'I'm Transitioning To Male'

ESPN reporter M.A. Voepel -- who's been covering sports for the outlet for more than two decades -- has come out as transgender ... saying Tuesday, "I'm transitioning to male."

Voepel said he decided to open up about his true self this week because he's slated to receive the Naismith Hall of Fame's Gowdy Award next month -- an honor recognizing media members who have made great contributions to basketball -- and he wanted to be there "as authentic self."

"Fear can keep us paralyzed for decades, especially when we think we will lose all that is dear to us, including career," Voepel said.

"At some point, you realize you need to have faith that your happiness/well-being is worth pursuing, and also have faith in other people's kindness and grace. Grateful for a company that supports all of its employees, for terrific family and friends, and for societal progress."

Voepel, who formerly went by Mechelle Voepel, added, "Please feel free to call me Voepel, MV, Michael, Mike; I’m good with them all."

Voepel has had a huge career with ESPN after initially joining the company in 1996 ... covering the WNBA, women's college basketball, volleyball and much more.

"I may look and sound a little different," he said. "Glad to be who I've always been inside. Dedication to covering women’s sports, a lifelong joy as well as job, and admiration for all involved -- players, coaches, execs, fans, referees, colleagues -- that stays exactly the same. Thanks!"

Immediately following his announcement, several ESPN personalities congratulated him ... including T.J. Quinn, who wrote, "Proud to have you as a colleague."

The WNBA added in a tweet, "Congrats MV sending all of our best."

Trevor Noah Griner's Sentence Is 'Bulls***' 'Get The F*** Out Of Here'

callin' out Russia's bs
Comedy Central

Hours after Brittney Griner was sentenced by a Russian judge to 9 years in prison ... Trevor Noah went IN on the foreign country -- dragging Vladimir Putin, while calling Thursday's ruling complete "bulls***."

Noah held nothing back on "The Daily Show," accusing Russia of using Griner and her drug trial as political pawns to gain leverage on the U.S.

"We all know Russia doesn’t care about what Brittney Griner did," Noah said. "This is the same country that’s breaking every human rights law on the planet, but they’re like, ‘That woman has vape cartridge. She’s real criminal.'"

"Get the f*** out of here, man!"

SENTENCED TO PRISON

Noah went on to repeatedly call Thursday's ruling "bulls***."

The comedian, though, did say there is a sliver of positive news to come out of Griner's sentence -- the U.S. and Russia can now seemingly begin prisoner swap talks earnestly.

And, Noah's clearly all in favor of giving the country whatever it wants to get the WNBA star back.

"Yeah, it seems like they win, but don’t forget, that person now has to live in Russia," Noah said. "Yeah, yeah. They’ll get there and be like, 'This whole country is prison. I miss food in Alcatraz, no!'"

Griner's Phoenix Mercury teammates, meanwhile, honored their star center with a 42-second moment of silence before their game against the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night.

Players from both teams linked arms during the pregame ceremony -- and at the tail-end of it all, an arena-wide "Bring Her Home!" chant broke out.

Griner will have the opportunity to appeal her sentence -- though in all likelihood, her only way of getting out of Russia before the end of the 9-year sentence is through a prisoner trade.

Boosie Badazz Kamala Needs to Flex Some Power To Free Brittney Griner!!!

C'MON AMERICA!!!

Brittney Griner’s 9-year prison sentence for flying in Russia with a cannabis cartridge is drawing lots of disbelief and outrage within hip hop, but perhaps no one's reacting as aggressively as Boosie Badazz.

The Louisiana rapper couldn’t contain his anger as he unloaded on America, in general -- but especially on Vice President Kamala Harris ... for not doing more, in his eyes, to help a fellow Black woman.

He screamed the Veep should be on the "front lines" assisting the embattled WNBA star, and claimed Harris' silence sets a bad example for women of color.

Boosie also speculated if it were Taylor Swift in Brittney’s situation, the U.S. government would have launched a massive strategy to secure the pop star’s freedom.

Similar comparisons have been made regarding BG’s international trial, with LeBron James being the most famous example.

After Thursday's verdict, Justin Bieber seems down for the cause too.

Now, no one's gonna confuse Boosie with an expert on international geopolitics -- but, for what it’s worth, both President Biden and VP Harris called for Russia to return BG to the U.S. ... and they've said negotiations are actively going on as you read this.

Other rappers like 50 Cent, Meek Mill and Dreezy have spoken out about Brittney's case … albeit not with the same kinda passion as Mr. Badazz.

Justin Bieber I Want To Help Get Griner Back!!! ... 'This Hurts'

The U.S. government says it's doing everything it can to get Brittney Griner home ... but now there's a Justin from Canada looking to help out, too -- and it ain't Trudeau.

Justin Bieber is reacting to Griner's 9-year sentence for bringing cannabis oil into Russia ... saying it "hurts" to hear the news, but he doesn't want to sit around and do nothing.

"If anyone knows of anyway (sic) I can help please let me know."

Bieber is just one of many notable figures furious over the sentencing -- Kyrie Irving called on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to provide more info about Griner's status.

"What is truly happening with our Queen @brittneygriner @POTUS @VP?" the Brooklyn Nets superstar tweeted. "Please give us an Update."

WNBA star Lexie Brown added ... "Anyone that goes back to Russia to play is insane."

"Praying for BG man…this is breaking my heart seeing her right now 😔😔😔."

Ex-NFL star Robert Griffin III's reaction was simple -- "BRING BRITTNEY GRINER HOME!!!"

The NBA and WNBA released a joint statement ... saying Griner's verdict and sentencing was "unjustified and unfortunate," but reaffirmed the organizations will stop at nothing to make sure she comes home.

As we previously reported, the U.S. has made Russia a "very good offer" to bring her back to the States.

No clue how Bieber can personally help ... but it's worth a shot??

Brittney Griner Sentenced To 9 Years In Russian Prison ... Biden Slams Ruling

SENTENCED TO PRISON
UPDATE

8:41 AM PT -- President Joe Biden has just slammed the ruling ... calling the sentence "unacceptable" -- and vowing to do everything in his power to get Griner home soon.

UPDATE

"I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates," Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Thursday.

UPDATE

"My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

UPDATE

8:26 AM PT -- Griner has just been sentenced to nine years behind bars in the case. She was also slapped with a 1 million rubles fine (about $16,300). She will have the opportunity to appeal.

UPDATE

In all likelihood, Griner won’t serve the sentence in its entirety. U.S. and Russian officials have been negotiating a prisoner swap that would reportedly include a Russian arms dealer nicknamed "The Merchant of Death."

UPDATE

8:06 AM PT -- A Russian judge just announced Griner has been found guilty of the charges against her. The WNBA superstar's sentencing is expected to be revealed shortly.

Brittney Griner was emotional in Russian court on Thursday ... apologizing for "my mistake that I made," while pleading with the judge to hand down a light sentence.

Griner issued the mea culpa at another hearing in her drug case ... telling the Moscow courtroom she was deeply sorry for inadvertently packing hashish oil in her luggage back in mid-February.

"I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of [Yekaterinburg] for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them," the WNBA superstar said.

"I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home."

According to Associated Press reporters on the scene, Griner -- wearing a gray T-shirt and dark pants -- appeared to be very emotional while saying she was sorry.

Griner later urged the judge to take it easy on her when her sentence is eventually handed down ... saying she hopes the ruling "does not end my life.”

Prosecutors, though, reportedly argued in the courtroom Thursday that Griner did intentionally bring the cannabis oil ... and urged the judge to sentence the 31-year-old to 9.5 years behind bars. They also reportedly argued Griner should be hit with a big fine.

The judge is expected to make a ruling in the case as early as Thursday afternoon.

As we reported, Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges against her last month. She's facing a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, have classified her as wrongfully detained ... and have confirmed they've made Russia a substantial trade offer to ultimately bring her home.

Originally Published -- 7:32 AM PT

Donald Trump Blasts Brittney Griner For Going To Russia 'Loaded Up With Drugs'

UPDATE

11:42 AM PT -- U.S. Congressman Colin Allred has big beef with Trump over his comments on the Griner situation ... telling the guys on "TMZ Live" on Monday, "For Donald Trump to call anybody spoiled is really rich."

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CLUELESS COMMENTS
TMZSports.com
UPDATE

Allred says he doesn't think Trump has any idea what he's talking about ... and he added he still believes Griner is being used as a "political pawn."

UPDATE

"This is not about her being some kind of spoiled person, or trying to transport drugs or anything like that," Allred said. "That's the Russian narrative. That's not the truth."

Donald Trump's going in on Brittney Griner, accusing the "potentially spoiled" WNBA star of traveling to Moscow "loaded up with drugs," and burying the idea of trading BG for a Russian arms dealer ... all in a new interview.

76-year-old Trump recently appeared on the "Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show" where he was asked about 31-year-old Griner's detainment in Russia.

"She went in there loaded up with drugs into a hostile territory where they’re very vigilant about drugs. They don’t like drugs, and she got caught," Trump said.

"And, now we’re supposed to get her out, and she makes, you know, a lot of money, I guess. We’re supposed to get her out for an absolute killer and one of the biggest arms dealers in the world. Killed many Americans. Killed many people.”

"Loaded up with drugs" isn't exactly consistent with the known information. Griner, in court, admitted to accidentally bringing marijuana that she says was prescribed by a doctor in the States to help deal with the pain from old hoops injuries, instead of taking powerful pain pills.

"It certainly doesn't seem like a very good trade, does it? He's absolutely one of the worst in the world and he's gonna be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs," Trump told Travis and Sexton.

Trump's referring to convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout -- known as the "Merchant of Death" -- who the U.S. has reportedly talked about swapping for Griner.

Not everyone's against the trade.

Last week, we spoke to U.S. Congressman Colin Allred -- who, like Griner, was an athlete at Baylor U. -- and he told us it's up to the Russians to accept the deal.

"The ball is entirely in the Russian's court. I think we've made a very good offer to them based off what we know what they want," Allred said.

The Congressman did not get into specifics of the deal ... nor did he mention Bout's name.

HOPEFUL ACTIONS
TMZSports.com

Griner has been detained near Moscow since late February ... when Russian officials found hashish oil in her bag. She pled guilty, and is awaiting her sentence. Brittney faces up to 10 years in prison ... unless there's a prisoner swap.

Originally Published -- 8:14 AM PT

Congressman Colin Allred U.S. Made Russia 'A Very Good Offer' For Brittney Griner ... 'I Think It's Going To Get Done'

HOPEFUL ACTIONS
TMZSports.com

Some positive news on the Brittney Griner front from Colin Allred ... the U.S. congressman says officials have made "a very good offer" to Russia for the WNBA star -- and he's now as confident as ever that she'll be able to return home.

The representative couldn't get into specifics of the trade that America has sent to the Russians ... but he did tell TMZ Sports he believes the proposed swap is exactly what the foreign country is looking for in a deal for Griner.

"The ball is entirely in the Russians' court," Allred said Friday out on Capitol Hill ... before adding, "I think prospects, in my opinion, look better now than they have really at any point since she was taken."

But, Allred said he's under the impression Russia would like to impose a sentence on the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center before it moves forward with accepting any trade offers.

The ex-Baylor football player, though, said he's optimistic it will eventually go down at some point hopefully soon.

"I think it's a matter of time," Allred tells us, "but I think it's going to get done."

DETAINED IN RUSSIA
customs.gov.ru

Griner has been detained in Russia since mid-February after authorities said she had hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. She's since pled guilty to the charges, and is facing a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars.

Her trial is slated to continue with another hearing next week.

Brittney Griner I Flew To Russia Despite Travel Warning ... So I Could Help My Team

Brittney Griner says she was aware the U.S. government warned Americans traveling to Russia was dangerous ... but the WNBA star told a court in Moscow she decided to get on the airplane because she wanted to help her basketball team.

Griner's drug trial continued in Russia on Wednesday, and the 31-year-old hooper testified to the reason she returned to Moscow in February despite the travel advisory.

"It's the most important part of the season, after the break. It's playoffs. The whole season I worked, my team worked hard to get to a good position," Griner said, continuing, "There was nothing that was going to change that for me. I didn't want to let my team down.  I did know about the 'do not fly' advisory, but like I said, there was nothing that was going to change my mind on coming back and finishing my duty for my team."

Brittney's alluding to a "Do Not Travel" advisory issued by the U.S. State Department on January 23 ... where they warned of "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens."

Of course, despite the fact Griner played several seasons in Russia (she's a 3x Russian League champ), she's an American citizen.

BG also addressed the reason for using cannabis ... years of sports injuries.

"Because of my injuries that I've had over the long career of basketball. From my spine, no cartilage in my knee. I was in a wheelchair for four months. I broke my ankle and I also sprained my knee really bad. So I was wheelchair-bound," Brittney told the court.

"The benefits from medical cannabis definitely outweigh the painkillers that they prescribe. The painkillers have really bad side effects. Medical cannabis, there are honestly no side effects that harm you."

Griner admits the cannabis was never supposed to wind up in her luggage ... and she still isn't entirely certain how it happened.

"I still don't understand to this day how they ended up in my bag. If I had to speculate, if I had to guess on how they ended up in my bags, I was in a rush packing. I was recovering from COVID, the stress of packing, making sure I had my COVID tests. Jet lag. And I was in a rush, throwing my stuff into my bag."

Griner has pleaded guilty, and is facing up to 10 years in prison.

Brittney Griner Sends Message To Wife In Court ... 'Good Luck On The Bar Exam'

Brittney Griner spoke with a media member on Tuesday for the first time since she was arrested back in February in Russia ... saying she had "no complaints" about her detention and adding that she wanted to wish her wife "good luck on the bar exam."

Griner -- who was back in court Tuesday for yet another hearing in her drug case -- spoke with an ABC News producer from behind bars inside the Moscow courtroom.

The outlet recorded the conversation, and in the audio, you can hear Griner calmly send the message to Cherelle Griner (who's been studying to become a lawyer) -- while adding she's "just waiting patiently" for a resolution in her drug case.

Brittney held up a photo of Cherelle minutes before the chat with the reporter. She also wore a sweatshirt that had "Black Lives Are Loved" written on it.

During the hearing, according to Reuters, Griner's legal team argued the WNBA star had used medical cannabis to help deal with her injuries -- and was not using the drug recreationally.

DETAINED IN RUSSIA
customs.gov.ru

As we reported, Griner has pled guilty to charges that she brought hashish oil in her luggage to a Moscow airport back in February -- though she said she had no intention of breaking Russian law.

Griner is facing up to 10 years in prison in the case. She's due back for another hearing in the trial later this week.

Phoenix Mercury Hand Out 1,500 Kicks To Community ... To Honor Brittney Griner

SHOES FOR THE CITY
Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury continue to honor their star player, Brittney Griner, as she remains in a Russian jail cell ... this time, the team handed out 1,500 sneakers to the community, an ode to her charity.

The WNBA team shared video of the amazing deed Monday ... saying they collected all the shoes last week after they launched the fifth annual 'Heart and Sole Shoe Drive' on behalf of Griner back in April.

"Today, we got to do some outreach with the Phoenix Rescue Mission," Mercury's head coach Vanessa Nygaard said, "and it was really touching to be out here."

"This is day actually 152 that BG's been wrongly imprisoned, and what better way to honor her and to think about her and keeping her thoughts to go out and do outreach in our community."

You can see Nygaard -- named Mercury's HC in January -- and her team hit the city streets distributing the sneakers, from Nike to Adidas, to the community ... and even talked to a couple of people after their awesome donation.

"To pass out the shoes that were so generously given by all the people who care about BG and to physically hand those to people in need was extremely touching and I hope impactful for our community," Nygaard said.

"But, we really can't wait for is the day that BG returns and we all get to go out with BG and love our community and celebrate her and everything that makes the valley so proud."

WE ARE BG
ABC

As we previously reported, Griner has been in Russian custody since February on drug possession and smuggling charges. She previously pled guilty and is facing up to 10 years in prison.

Many have shown the WNBA champ support ... from politicians to celebs and pro athletes, including 4x NBA champ Steph Curry.

WNBA Star Te'a Cooper Pens Love Note To Kamara For Bday ... 'It's All About You!!!'

"Happy Birthday to MY MAN MY MAN MY MAN MY MAN 🖤🖤🖤"

WNBA star Te'a Cooper showered Alvin Kamara with all kinds of sweet compliments for his 27th birthday on Monday ... penning an adorable love note to the New Orleans Saints halfback on her social media page.

The former L.A. Sparks guard shared the message with a bunch of photos of the NFL star -- and included a video of their romance as well.

"@alvinkamara today Is all about you 🥺🖤," Cooper said on Monday.

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

"What I love most about you is your selfless heart, courageous spirit, & loyalty. I don’t just love you I respect you."

FYI, Cooper -- who previously dated NBA star Dwight Howard -- went IG official with Kamara in 2021 ... and they've been inseparable since, taking a Paris vacation together while also getting in workouts together in the gym.

"Every day we celebrate each other," the 25-year-old hooper said. "BUT TODAY IS THE DAY THE REALEST WAS BORN AND IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU! Alexa play: CATER TO YOU AND DIM THE LIGHTS."

Kamara enjoyed the bday post ... writing in the comment section, "Thank you mama. Love you ♥️"

The couple will only have a few days to celebrate -- Kamara, a five-time Pro Bowler, is heading off to Saints' training camp on July 30.

Happy birthday, AK!!!

Steph Curry Wears Griner Jersey At ESPYs ... Calls For Her Release

WE ARE BG
ABC

"We are BG!"

Steph Curry -- flanked by WNBA superstars Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith -- paused the joke-telling and award-presenting for several moments at Wednesday night's ESPYs to deliver that Brittney Griner-themed message ... and it was powerful.

The four-time NBA champion wore Griner's Phoenix Mercury jersey for the speech, and alongside Ogwumike and Diggins-Smith, he called for the WNBA star's release from Russia.

"It's been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,'' Diggins-Smith said. "All throughout that time, we've kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts even though we know that ain't nearly enough to bring her home, y'all."

"She's one of us," Curry added, "the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict."

As we've reported, Griner has been detained in Russia since mid-February, after she was accused of illegally bringing hashish oil in her luggage to a Moscow airport.

Griner -- who's since pleaded guilty to the charges -- is now facing up to 10 years behind bars in the foreign country in the case.

In his speech Wednesday, Curry made it clear he believes if Americans continue to raise awareness of her case, it could expedite her return to U.S. soil.

"We cannot stop fighting for her, we cannot stop believing for her and we will not stop hoping for the day when we can welcome her home safely," he said.

U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe also used several moments of her award acceptance speech later in the night to echo Curry's sentiments.

Hours after the awards show, however, a spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry slammed the U.S.'s "wrongfully detained" characterization of Griner ... and urged the country to allow the legal process to play out.

"If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to the Associated Press.

Griner's trial, meanwhile, is still continuing onward ... she's set to return to a Moscow courtroom for another hearing in the case next week.

Brittney Griner Mural Of WNBA Star Unveiled In D.C. ... Highlights Americans Detained Abroad

UPDATE

3:30 PM PT -- TMZ Sports spoke with the artist behind the mural ... who tells us the project has been in the works for months, and it took him 11 hours to complete.

UPDATE

Isaac Campbell says Griner's team provided the photo of her in the Team USA jersey ... which served as the inspiration for her part of the mural.

UPDATE
BRING BRITTNEY HOME
TMZSports.com
UPDATE

Campbell has yet to speak with Brittney's wife, Cherelle, about the piece ... but says it "would be the honor of his life" if Griner can return home and take a selfie in front of her picture on the mural.

A mural of Brittney Griner -- and 17 other Americans detained in countries like Russia -- was erected Wednesday in Washington D.C. ... all to bring awareness to Americans locked up abroad.

Of course, Griner's case has received a tremendous amount of attention, but that's not necessarily the case with all the captive U.S. citizens ... and the hope is the artwork will get the word out.

Isaac Campbell, an artist from Iowa who's in charge of the project, spent about 8 hours putting the 15 ft. tall mural together in Georgetown before opening it to the public, according to the Washingtonian.

The photos were provided by the Bring Our Families Home Campaign.

Campbell cut and pasted photos onto the wall ... using flour, water, and sugar to form a non-toxic, biodegradable glue, with help from detainees' family members and citizens passing by. It's expected to eventually fade ... but it could take weeks, months, or longer, depending on the weather.

Aside from the artwork, Campbell hopes the message behind the mural resonates with people more than the artistry, so detainees like Griner can return to the United States.

“We really need to put pressure on all people with any tools, whether that’s wheat-pasting, or whether that’s using your own personal platforms on social media to help apply pressure," Campbell said.

"Or if you’re in any stage of government, and you can provide support and begin to help bring these people home."

Other than Griner -- a star hooper for the Phoenix Mercury -- other Americans like Paul Whelan, U.S. citizen and former Marine who's been detained in Russia since 2018 on drug and espionage charges, are featured.

Griner recently pled guilty to a drug charge ... but her trial near Moscow is still ongoing (the Russian justice system is different than in America). She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Griner's next hearing is scheduled for July 26.

Originally Published -- 11:30 AM PT

Curt Schilling Brittney Griner Should 'Pay The Penalty' In Russia ... 'Obey The F***ing Law'

Curt Schilling clearly has no problem seeing Brittney Griner's detention in Russia drag on ... the ex-MLB star said Sunday night he believes the WNBA player should "pay the penalty for breaking another country's laws."

Schilling wrote the controversial statement on his Twitter page -- in a response to LeBron James' plea to bring Griner home.

"I know this may seem like a stretch," the 55-year-old said. "But something like 300 million people understand 'OBEY THE F***ING LAW', why is that such a challenge?"

"And why on earth should she NOT pay the penalty for breaking another country's laws?"

Griner has been locked in a cell in Russia since mid-February, after authorities said they found hashish oil in her luggage at an airport in Moscow. At a hearing in the case earlier this month, Griner pled guilty to the charges ... telling a judge at the time, "I didn't want to break the law."

Schilling obviously believes her plea and subsequent statements are justification for her to remain behind bars as long as Russia sees fit.

"She, as far as I know from every quote of hers," Schilling said, "has NEVER denied committing the crime, not once."

The United States government, meanwhile, has classified Griner as "wrongfully detained" and is in the process of negotiating with Russia to bring her home.

Griner is facing a punishment of up to 10 years behind bars following her guilty plea. Another hearing in her case has been scheduled for next week.

Brittney Griner Holds Up Pic of WNBA All-Stars in Russian Court Lawyer Says Cannabis Was Medical

UPDATE

11:09 AM PT -- A new photo shows Griner holding up a photo of the WNBA All-Stars wearing Brittney's #42 jersey at last weekend's All-Star Game.

Brittney Griner, wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, was back in court Friday, where the WNBA star's attorney told the judge BG, who's being tried on a drug charge, was prescribed cannabis for medical use ... the same substance she was caught carrying.

Griner's lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told the court on Friday, "The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis."

"The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health," she added.

Blagovolina also submitted tests to the court ... showing 31-year-old Griner underwent testing to ensure she complied with anti-doping regulations, and the results revealed the hooper didn't have any prohibited substances in her system.

Griner appeared in court last week, bringing a photo of her wife, Cherelle, to the proceeding ... where she plead guilty to drug possession.

While addressing the court, Griner told the judge it wasn't her intent to break the law ... she simply packed hastily, and forgot about the cannabis.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison ... but reps for the Phoenix Mercury star told us they're hopeful her guilty plea will be the beginning of getting Griner freed from Russian custody.

For now, Brittney's detention has been authorized to go through Dec. 20, according to the Associated Press, and although she plead guilty at last week's court hearing, Russia's justice system differs from the United States ... meaning the trial is to go through the beginning of August.

Griner's next hearing is scheduled for July 26.

Originally Published -- 7:17 AM PT

Brittney Griner Praised By Russian Basketball Team ... During Trial

Several members of Brittney Griner's Russian basketball team came to her aid at her trial in Moscow on Thursday ... praising her character and leadership skills in testimonies inside of the courtroom.

One week after pleading guilty to drug charges in the foreign country, Griner's trial pressed onward -- and during the proceedings, players and officials from UMMC Ekaterinburg, Griner's former basketball team in Russia, testified in support of the WNBA star.

Team captain Evgeniya Belyakova, according to NPR, told the court Griner was "the heart of our team." She added that fans in Russia "adored" the 31-year-old center.

One of Griner's attorneys added following the hearing that the director of UMMC Ekaterinburg, Maxim Ryabkov, also "gave a positive description of Brittney Griner during his speech in court, noting her outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to strengthening the team spirit, which allowed the team to achieve the highest results in the Russian basketball premier league and in international competitions for many years."

Griner showed up at the courtroom in a dark-colored t-shirt and glasses. She did not give a testimony during the proceedings. Her trial is expected to continue on Friday morning.

As we reported, Griner is facing up to 10 years behind bars after she pled guilty to charges that she had hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport back in February.

Griner's attorneys said they were hoping her guilty plea would lead to "no severe sentence" for the basketball player. Her trial is expected to wrap in August.

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