WNBA

Athletes Unlimited Provides Invaluable WNBA Offseason Experience

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In past years, the most enticing off-season option for WNBA athletes was to go overseas and play in leagues in countries like Russia, Turkey, France and Australia.

Through human ingenuity, however, a spectacular alternative appeared last year.

Players have mentioned more attractive salaries and the ability to travel the world and be exposed to different cultures. Playing overseas can bring challenges, though. Being away from family, friends and support systems is at the top of the list, along with general homesickness. But if you’re a WNBA player still interested in making money playing basketball, there wasn’t another option.

Enter Athletes Unlimited.

What Is It?

An innovative professional women’s sports league entering its second season, Athletes Unlimited is a blessing for players who are less interested in playing overseas.

Taking place in Dallas, Texas, it’s a five-week long affair, with teams shuffled every week via a draft of 44 players. Every team plays three games per week.

All players accrue points during the games for different stats, like points, assists and steals. Game MVPs are also awarded more points, and players can earn points if their teams win quarters and games. Every week, the top-four point scorers are named captains and draft their new teams for the following week.

The points accumulate throughout the season on the leaderboard. After the last game, whoever is at the top is the champ. Last year, Tianna Hawkins, who is currently signed to a training-camp contract with the Washington Mystics, became the Hoops Champion.

It’s not a league just for WNBA players, though. You’ll see some unfamiliar names who haven’t gotten a chance in the WNBA or have struggled to make pro rosters. Still, the talent is abundant.

WNBA Players Taking Centerstage

Here are the WNBA players suiting up in Dallas.

Ready for Week 1

The season starts Thursday evening.

Each team will play one game Thursday, Friday and Sunday before the teams reshuffle in a draft for the following week. The team captains to start the season are Courtney Williams, Odyssey Sims, Natasha Cloud, and Taj Cole (who replaced DiJonai Carrington, sidelined for week 1).

The draft is complete, and the week one rosters are set.

Those new to AU might question: “who are the coaches?”

The players!

While the league has what they call “facilitators,” who assist the athletes, the captains carry much of the coaching duties. From drafting their teams to coordinating rotations and even coming up with some offensive and defensive schemes, it’s an excellent opportunity for players to gain a little insight into what their coaches do every night. More so, it makes AU one of the world’s most fun and unique professional sports leagues.

This season, the facilitators are Pokey Chatman, Danielle Viglione, Carlos Knox, Zak Buncik and Seimone Augustus. Chatman and Vigilone both return from the inaugural season.

Players Seeking a Shot

If one does the math, more than half of the athletes aren’t currently WNBA players.

There are some who reached training-camp rosters at some point but didn’t make the team. Nearly every player in the league has played professional basketball in some capacity. In most cases, overseas too. The roster crunch of the WNBA is a tired story. Every year, countless talented players get cut simply because of the lack of roster space.

But for players yearning for even a shot at the league, AU is the place to put on a show.

Taj Cole is an excellent example of this hope. Last season, then Connecticut Sun head coach, Curt Miller, watched week one. He was clearly impressed with what he saw because it didn’t take long for him to sign Cole to a training-camp contract heading into the 2022 season. This signing likely would never have happened if not for AU. The Sun ultimately cut Cole before the season, but the experience a player gains from participating in a WNBA training camp is invaluable.

It won’t at all be surprising if a similar scenario arises this season.

Where Can You Watch?

Diehard WNBA fans received the best news last week.

WNBA League Pass will broadcast almost all 30 games (25 to be exact) this season at no additional cost. Most games last year aired on cable networks like CBS Sports Network, FS2 and Bally Sports. While it was cool that these games were on TV, not everyone has cable these days. As long as you own a streaming device and a League Pass subscription, you’re in. Not only that but as with WNBA games, the games will be archived.

Again, diehard WNBA fans are rejoicing, as they can now dive into AU film to gather tape on their favorite WNBA players or possibly a newcomer to their favorite team. The five games that aren’t on League Pass will air on CBS Sports Network.

WNBA legend, Sheryl Swoopes, will reprise her analyst role alongside Cindy Brunson.

The AU also announced that there will be a weekly preview show starring Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV and Savanna Collins, AU reporter. They’ll provide analysis, breakdowns and insight into all the happenings in the league. Some guests will also be featured. The show will air on the AU YouTube channel for 15 minutes before the first game of every week.

More Iconic Moments Await

AU players await endless opportunities.

Scouts, coaches and GMs can glimpse what these players can do while competing against WNBA talent. It’s an excellent domestic alternative to playing overseas. And it’s a way to build camaraderie with like-minded players who have the same goal.

It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from season one. We had Sydney Colson‘s epic OT buzzer beater. We had the unstoppable and endearing duo of Cloud and Carrington. (You can purchase a t-shirt to rep both of those here.) For the more tender-hearted, it might be a story like Cole’s or Hawkins’ emotional speech.

Regardless of your favorite, you can bet you’ll have a new favorite moment by the end of the upcoming season. The players will make sure of it. So tune in Thursday at 6 pm ET. You won’t be disappointed.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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