Russian basketball boss defends Griner in court

STORY: In what was described by her lawyer as an ‘extremely emotional day’ - U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was back in a Russian court Thursday on drug charges carrying a possible jail sentence of up to 10 years.

Her Russian basketball club director and teammate were among those who testified in support of the U.S. basketball star.

They both expressed relief to reporters after the closed-door hearing.

HEAD OF UMMC YEKATERINBURG WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CLUB, MAXIM RYABKOV: "Today was the first day since February that we've seen our basketball player. Thank God, she feels good and looks good. Our aim today was to come here and tell the court about her character as a sportswoman and as a person."


UMMC TEAM CAPTAIN, YEVGENIA BELYAKOVA: "Brittney was always a great teammate, that is why I am here, to support her and be there for her at this difficult time. We miss her so much, miss her energy. I was so glad to see her today. I really hope that the trial will end soon - and in a good way."

Griner is a top player for the WNBA and has played in Russia during off-seasons since 2014.

She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed cannabis oil vape cartridges.

Griner has pled guilty to the drug charges but said she didn't intend to break the law.

U.S. President Joe Biden recently told Griner's wife that he is working to secure the player's release from Russia as soon as possible, describing her detention as "intolerable."

On Thursday, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reiterated a warning for the U.S. to ease up on public pressure to release detained U.S. citizens.

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN, MARIA ZAKHAROVA: "We call on the U.S. authorities not to speculate on such sensitive matters as the fate of specific individuals, and advise them to stop exerting pressure on us. We call on them instead to concentrate on practical work via established (diplomatic) channels. There is no other way."

Russia has denied any political element to the case.