Russian Basketball Team Testifies in Support of Brittney Griner During Trial: ‘The Heart of Our Team’

Russian Basketball Team Testifies in Support of Brittney Griner During Trial: 'The Heart of Our Team'

Brittney Griner‘s most recent appearance in a Russian court again ended without a verdict.

The detained WNBA star, 31, appeared for a third hearing Thursday outside Moscow, after she pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into Russia a week earlier.

At the hearing, members of of the professional Russian basketball team Griner plays for, UMMC Yekaterinburg, spoke highly of Griner’s contributions, according to The New York Times. The director of the team testified to Griner’s “outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to the strengthening [of] the team’s spirit,” the basketball star’s lawyer told the Times.

In addition to team director Maksim Ryabkov, a team doctor and the team’s captain, Evgeniya Belyakova, also testified Thursday, with Belyakova telling the court that Griner is “the heart of our team,” according to NPR’s Charles Maynes.

Griner did not testify at Thurday’s hearing, which “did not touch at all,” on Griner’s guilty plea aside from questions posed to the defense’s witnesses about any possible past drug use by the two-time Olympic medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star, according to NPR. The witnesses all testified that any prior drug use by Griner would be “impossible” due to her playing schedule and drug testing.

A fourth hearing in Griner’s trial has been scheduled for Friday, according to CNN. On Thursday, a Kremlin spokesperson declined to discuss the possibility of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. government that could send Griner home. A spokeswoman with the Russian Foreign Ministry also said that any negotiations concerning Griner could only prove productive after a verdict in her case has been reached, according to the Times.

Phoenix Mercury Brittney Griner (C) is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki City Court, outside Moscow, Russia, 14 July 2022.

Phoenix Mercury Brittney Griner (C) is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki City Court, outside Moscow, Russia, 14 July 2022.
Credit: YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Last week, Griner pleaded guilty to bringing cannabis products into Russia — where it is considered illegal — but said that she was packing quickly and did not mean to break the law, saying she did so “inadvertently.”

At the time, Griner’s legal team, Maria Blagovolina from Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Alexander Boykov from Moscow Legal Center, shared a statement with PEOPLE that said her guilty plea “was her decision informed by discussion with her legal defense team in Russia.”

“Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people,” the statement continued.

Her lawyers said that because of “the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport,” they hoped that her plea will help the athlete avoid a “severe sentence.”

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Griner faces up to 10 years in prison. Despite her guilty plea, Griner’s trial is expected to continue until sentencing at the beginning of next month, her legal team told PEOPLE.

Griner was arrested February 17 at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow on allegations that she was in possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil while traveling through the airport. She was put into a Russian detention center where she has been held for more than four and a half months.

RELATED VIDEO: Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Russian Drug Charges: ‘I Did Not Want to Break the Law’

The Phoenix Mercury player first appeared in court for the start of her trial on July 1, when the Russian court accused her of moving a “significant amount” of cannabis oil through the country.

In May, the U.S. State Department classified Griner’s arrest as wrongful detainment.

“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “The U.S. Government will continue to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner and her family.”

Griner, who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was put front-and-center last weekend during the league’s All-Star Weekend events. The WNBA named Griner an honorary All-Star and displayed her name and number, 42, on the court at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. All of the athletes who played in Sunday’s All-Star game wore Griner’s jersey for the second half of the exhibition.