Athletes Unlimited Basketball: A New Offseason Destination For WNBA Players

Dallas is about to become the epicenter of women’s basketball.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

Athletes Unlimited has announced that the second season of Athletes Unlimited Basketball will take place from February 22 to March 26, 2023, with all 30 games to be played at Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. With the NCAA Final Four taking place at the same location from March 31 to April 2, Dallas is about to become the epicenter of women’s basketball.

Athletes Unlimited launched in February 2022, with all games played in Las Vegas. In its first season, the majority of players had no WNBA experience. But with 15 players with significant WNBA experience already signing contracts to play in the second season of the league, Athletes Unlimited Basketball is establishing itself as a United States-based alternative for WNBA players to overseas leagues. 

With the WNBA season only consisting of 36 regular-season games, many players find themselves looking for leagues to compete in during the off-season to ensure that they remain in top form. Prior to the establishment of AU Basketball, for most players this meant spending several months of the year away from their families in overseas leagues. Additionally, with most leagues in Europe and Asia starting soon after the conclusion of the WNBA season, players were having to get on planes to head to their new teams days after playing their final games in the WNBA.

Natasha Cloud, Courtney Williams, DiJonai Carrington, Isabelle Harrison, Kelsey Mitchell, Tianna Hawkins, and Sydney Colson were some of the WNBA players who made the decision to stay in the United States and play in AU Basketball’s inaugural season, and already several other WNBA players have announced their intent to join them for the league’s second season.

Among this year’s signees are Allisha Gray, who helped the United States win a Gold medal in 3×3 basketball at the Tokyo Olympics, Jordin Canada, Layshia Clarendon, N’dea Jones, and rookies NaLyssa Smith, Evina Westbrook, and Naz Hillmon.

“I know I needed a break,” Smith said of not wanting to go directly from the WNBA season to another league. “With AU, I’ll still be able to play in the WNBA’s off-season, but I’ll get some rest before that. The exciting part is I know my game is going to grow a lot.” NaLyssa Smith was drafted into the WNBA just a few weeks after the conclusion of her final season at Baylor, and as a result, played non-stop basketball for over a year (longer if you include the off-season work that went into preparing for her college season). While she could have perhaps signed a more lucrative contract overseas, doing so would have meant moving away from a city that she had just settled down in and would have likely taken a serious toll on her body. With the growth of the WNBA and women’s basketball in the United States as a whole, staying home also gives Smith the chance to work on building her own brand off the court. 

AU Basketball furthermore gives players like Layshia Clarendon a chance to play basketball again and potentially work their way back onto a WNBA court. “I just wanted the opportunity to continue to play,” said Clarendon in an interview with The Next. For Clarendon, playing overseas is not an option, so they are ready to enjoy every moment of their time on the floor this coming February. 

As of October 25, 31 players, including 15 with significant WNBA experience, have already signed contracts to play in the upcoming season of AU Basketball. 21 of these players are returners from the first season of the league. 

“I’m thrilled to be a part of Athletes Unlimited once again,” said WNBA Champion Sydney Colson, who chairs the Athletes Unlimited Basketball Player Executive Committee. “The inaugural season was competitive and fun, and we have a talented roster ready to bring that same intensity to year two in Dallas! We hope the Dallas community is ready to embrace AU hoops because we’re so excited for another season to be able to play stateside.”

For those looking to learn more about the unique features of the league ahead of its second season, CBS Sports is showcasing a 30-minute special titled “Athletes Unlimited: A Pro Sports Revolution” this Saturday, October 29, at 1:30 p.m. ET on the CBS Television Network and streaming on Paramount+. The special will tell the story of Athletes Unlimited from its launch to the present day, including an overview of AU’s unique scoring system and other innovations, and will also spotlight some of the personalities that have been a part of Athletes Unlimited thus far.

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