Brittney Griner: WNBA regular season will start without one of its best players, who is still in Russian custody

The seven-time All-Star was arrested in February at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian authorities of smuggling significant quantities of drugs, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The State Department has classified Griner as being wrongfully detained in Russia, and his case is being handled by the office of US Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, a State Department official confirmed to CNN on Tuesday. The office leads and coordinates the government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Americans unjustly detained abroad.

Meanwhile, his team – which reached the WNBA Finals last year – announced its roster for opening night on Thursday, saying the team has been granted an exemption and salary cap concession until Griner “won’t make her go home safely.”

“It’s a delicate situation,” four-time All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said of his teammate on Thursday.

“It’s hard. And it sucks when you keep asking us because it’s exciting to face it. It’s inspiring. But we love our sister. We miss our sister. We’ll keep playing in her honor until she comes back,” Diggins-Smith said.

A WNBA spokesperson said earlier this week that the league views the move by federal authorities to classify Griner as being unjustly detained as a “positive development and a next step in bringing her home.”

“Brittney was detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House will do whatever it takes to bring her home,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said Tuesday.

The WNBA will honor Griner this season by branding his initials (BG) and jersey number (42) on all 12 home courts.

Last season, Griner finished second in the Most Valuable Player Award voting. The 6’9 “center led Mercury to the WNBA Finals, where Phoenix lost to the Chicago Sky.

He is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and played for the Russian powerhouse UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season.

Jill Martin, Jennifer Hansler, Wayne Sterling, Brian Todd, and CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.