The Athletes Unlimited basketball league has partnered with an All-Star list of content creators to document the inaugural season’s action, including HighlightHER’s Arielle Chambers. Together they’ve launched “All on the Table” – a long-form YouTube series featuring candid discussions about players’ experiences in sports and life. You can subscribe here.
In the first episode, Ari is joined by pro hoopers Sydney Colson, Isabelle Harrison, Ty Young, and Lexie Brown. The squad discusses the start of the league, the good and the bad of social media, coaches that impacted them, their advice for young basketball players, and much more. So today, we’ll share some of our favorite findings from the show.
Learn right from the best! Find out all about Ty’s experience with the WNBA in Chicago, which coach most impacted Syd’s career, why ‘Harrisons’ were in demand in Tennessee, and how Lexie’s AAU teams later influenced LeBron James (jk, but not really, but maybe).
“I would just like to share that Lexie was actually onboard early. And she dropped out. So she was on the PEC (Player Executive Committee). I hate to turn the conversation but she left us, yeah?!” said Sydney Colson.
“She’s here now.” Ari said.
“Yeah, but we’re not so quick to forgive.” said Syd.
“I told them that there was a good chance that I would be back.” said Lexie. “Y’all know what happened to me over the summer. I was on a team. Then I wasn’t on a team. And I had to prepare for my future, which was having to go overseas. I did end up going overseas. I went to France, and I just realized it wasn’t giving what I thought it was going to give. Being overseas for 7 months you play once a week. They released the schedule for AU and you’re playing 3 times a week in 6 weeks. So I’m going to be playing the same amount of games in a shorter time. I get to be home. I get to do things off the court that I care about. Be with people that I know, and things like that.”
“They welcomed me back with open arms, which I was very grateful for that. Because they did say, ‘We’ll have a spot for you.’ But I wasn’t really sure if there was going to be one.” she continued.
“And then there wasn’t.” said Syd.
Syd also talked a bit about the start of the league and recruiting players. “It was difficult [to recruit] because this sounds like a pipe dream to a lot of people because once again the WNBA is what’s existed. So people have heard about other things coming in previous years, maybe even decades ago. But it never happened. So when you hear something like this you’re going to be paid, it’s going to be in one location, there’s going to be great competition, and it’s going to be streamed for people to watch, and friends and family can see you play in person. People are like, ‘Yeah, OK.’…It was difficult at first until the announcement was made. Then once the announcement was made, it was so many people reaching out to be a part of it. Which was kind of what we expected.”
When it comes to social media and encountering negative comments, the hoopers have different ways of addressing the feedback. “If I do see something a little bit negative, sometimes I’ll go to their page, and see their whole page is negative. This is their journal. They’re miserable. So you can’t always take everything to heart because they might be going through something weird. You don’t know who this person is. And that’s why I think I stopped going after people, too. Because what is the point?” said Lexie Brown.
“You low key want to protect yourself. Like everybody puts their best foot forward on social media. So you kind of are expecting positive feedback. I don’t think anybody puts stuff up expecting negativity. So if everything is overwhelmingly positive, and there’s a person who’s negative for no reason- it’s like ‘What’s your deal? You’re the only one with this view point.’ Like I said, that’s when I just pin people cus I think it’s funny. I don’t take stuff to heart.” said Syd…”I don’t care if people think I’m funny. I’m going to get my jokes off. For me! I do these jokes for me…Even if nobody laughed, I’d keep going.”
“A dude tweeted me. My WNBA career didn’t go the way that I wanted it to go. But I’m grateful that I had a 6 year career. I’m like I have no problems. Basketball is a part of my life. But by no means does anything I do on the court make me feel less or more about myself. It’s a sport. It’s our job and it’s fun. You’re taking it way too serious. I had said something, and he was like, ‘You need to shut up. Over your 6 year career you averaged like 4 points.’ And I was like, ‘You gave me 2 points too many I think. But thanks!’ So that pisses them off more, when you don’t get mad about them being rude. He didn’t respond again. Because what do you say to someone who makes fun of themselves?” said Syd.
“My role changed drastically coming out of college. Being in Atlanta I had that same mentality. When I was traded to Chicago, my coach specifically said to me, ‘Your job here, if you want to play on my team, is to play defense and rebound.’ And I’m like I want to score, I’m a scorer. And he literally, I remember there was one game where I had 10 points in one quarter, and he literally sat me the rest of the game. And was like, “I told you. I have my scorers. Defend and rebound if you want to play.’ And I love basketball, so I wanted to play. So that’s what I had to learn to do if I wanted to stay on the team and play. I mean I lasted 12 years in the league by having that role. It wasn’t something that I wanted. But it was something I was willing to do for the betterment of the team, and to still be on the court.” said Ty.
“I feel like I’ve had every single role possible on a team. I was a benchwarmer. Then I was the first or second player off the bench. Shooter. Then, I was a starter. Then I got hurt, I got a concussion. And then I went back to being a benchwarmer again. So it’s kind of been this full circle moment. But like you said, I left with a Championship which I’m so grateful for, this summer was one of the best of my life.” said Lexie Brown.
“I don’t think I was ever given the grace to make enough mistakes to really be able to play throughout a long enough time. But I was always just like I’m going to make the most of the time that I’m out there though.” recapped Syd.
“How it can go for people is that you’re in situations with coaches for several years in a row and nobody sees you for who you are. And you have a view of yourself that nobody has understood yet. And you could get to your 7th year in the league, and there’s finally that coach that lets you be you, and who lets you do what you know you’ve been capable of doing but it’s a matter of: for those 6 years, did your confidence drop? Did you stop working? Did you become a bad teammate? Did you become cancerous because things weren’t going your way? And then that 7th year when somebody maybe would have been ready to give you a chance, were you too jaded from all of that stuff before to be ready for that moment?” she explained.
“And I think a lot of people don’t make it to that moment because you let these people change you.” she continued.
“And what I try to tell a lot of players is that you’re going to get into the real world and you might be in a situation, a job, where one they don’t care that you were a professional athlete, maybe you see something for yourself in that job where you’re like ‘Oh I think I can do this. I can do more.’ you want to ask for more in a role, ‘I think I can get a raise.’ But they didn’t ask you for that. And you don’t get that. And you might not be a favorite at your job but then you might get a new boss one day. And all of a sudden you do get that raise, you do get that promotion, you get to do what you know you’ve been capable of all along. But did you give up on yourself during that time before? And I think a lot of people miss the moment that could be coming because they get caught up in the negative or the now.” said Syd.
“You really can’t control nothing in this business,” said Isabelle. “But you gotta remain who you are, in that situation. So when I got traded to Dallas, I could have been negative about it. I was like why am I here right now? People talk about Dallas all the time. But you can see we’ve made progress. And I’ve established my role on that team. But had I had a negative mindset about it, I could have been anywhere.”
“On the court I had the most growth this year. But honestly I just had to be more selfish with what I wanted for my career. Cus again I hear stories about veteran players. I’m mid career right now. I’ve had my experience in the past, and I still have more of my future to look forward to. So I’m kind of just deciding what I want for myself…I came from Tennessee, a really good program. At the end of the day I still think about what Pat [Summitt] would want for me, and the type of player I am. This year I really just got…to take charge of the team, I’m a vet on that team. Being able to just put my foot down, this is how we’re going to move forward, and it made a difference. We got to our first playoff in like whatever. Lexie took us out but…It was growth for us.” said Isabelle
“My freshman year I was playing behind 5 All-Americans, and 4 out of the 5 were in my position. So obviously, you go into college, you have that freshman arrogance…I was doing that and [Pat] definitely saw my confidence go so, so, so low. And at the same time, this was when she first announced she was having her early onset dementia. She sat me down during a practice and she was like, ‘Izzy, it’s literally never OK to have a pity party.’ And she said that and it kind of shocked me back to reality.”
“I’m worried about basketball and playing time, and she’s literally like losing her memory. She can’t remember her closest friends around her. And I remember looking in her eyes, of course I was scared, but I was like, ‘Man I really feel what you’re going through.’ And I carried that with me throughout Tennessee. If something wasn’t going my way, I was never going to complain about it or bring other people down. I was going to be Izzy…” she continued.
“Then being drafted to the league I was drafted to Phoenix: Penny Taylor, Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, I was never going to play. It was never going to happen…I just was so happy I had that experience with Pat. Because I could have came in and really burnt myself. I might not have been on a team. They didn’t care what I did at Tennessee. If anything I was an energy player. I was able to lift up everybody else while I was playing there.” said Isabelle.
“My first year or two in the league, I definitely had a negative aura about me because I was not enjoying what was going on. And both of my parents snapped me out of it quickly. They’re like ‘Your career is going to be way shorter than you want it to be, if you keep carrying yourself like this because this is not the person that we raised.’ I heard them and I was like ‘OK.’ But I think internally finally something clicked in me after I got my concussion really. Knocked some sense into me…Just having the right people around you in your circle is so important. I see so many people go down a wrong path because they have people around them that are just allowing them to carry themselves whatever type of way.” said Lexie Brown.
“I think my Texas A&M coaches were the most impactful. I was grateful to go to a school where I had two African-American female assistants. For me that was big because I knew down the line that I wanted to coach. So it’s helpful to be somewhere where…I had two women I could watch every day, that I was learning from every day, who were pouring into me and our team every day. And who would sometimes understand things we were going through that the other two coaches weren’t going to understand. So that was vitally important for me.” said Sydney.
“I’m one of 12, I’m number 10 out of the whole bunch.” said Isabelle. “Same mom. Same dad. People always asked me that and I never understood. Growing up around Tennessee we were always one of the best, like people wanted a Harrison on their team. But going into AAU you start to play people from other states. So I was like, ‘Oh snap I am really not the best at what I do.’ It humbled me. But it allowed my coaches to push me to be even better…and I played for Tennessee Flight…We were recruiting from Cali, everywhere, we were one of the best.”
“AAU is different now. Everyone wants to be the person on their team. When we were growing up we were making sure the best players in the state were on the same AAU team. And we wanted to whoop up on everybody else around the country. But now you have like one really good player on an AAU team, and there are like 500 AAU teams with one good player on there, instead of all the girls coming together to be a super team. Which that’s what made AAU fun.” said Lexie.
“So do y’all think you influenced the NBA with super teams?” asked Syd.
“Oh absolutely. Super teams? We started the super teams as 13 year olds in Atlanta, Georgia.” said Lexie.
“Dope. Shout out to y’all.” said Syd.
“My AAU time, my coach taught me how to be versatile,” said Ty. “I didn’t play AAU until the 10th grade. When I joined the team, they all had been playing together since 7 or 8. When I joined, I was one of the tallest players. But I was a guard. So when he put me in the post, I’m like, ‘I’m not a post player. I’m not playing the post.’ And he pulled me to the side and he was like, ‘This will make you more versatile, just trust me.’ So I had to trust him, and it did. It helped for college and for the league being a more versatile player.”
“Me, choosing James Madison, Coach Brooks, I just felt a connection, and I wanted to go to a school where I could make a difference. There were bigger schools that were recruiting me but I didn’t want to go to a school where I’d have to sit and wait after a player that was older than me. I wanted to make an immediate impact. And I knew that if I was good enough and I put the work in, which I did, that they would find me. And my coaches, all of them from high school to AAU, to college, helped me with that work ethic. I was a gym rat at a young age. I just loved to play ball. But I was also able to listen to my coaches, when they would critique me, or when they’d try to make me be better. I knew that they knew what my ultimate goal was, and they were just preparing me.” said Ty.
In terms of advice the squad would give players and coaches, the players wished there was more room to explore other interests, and encouraged players to do their research when picking a college program.
Lexie Brown said, “I had a teammate who was really into fashion. And our coach let her miss things sometimes cuz she was doing internships, she was designing her own clothes, and doing all this stuff. That’s something she was super interested in and she was passionate about, and my coach let her chase that. And she didn’t think she was going to be a professional basketball player. She did all of that. And she’s still playing professional basketball anyway. But she still was able to explore her other passions. She was a really great player. I loved having her as a teammate, and now she’s doing her thing overseas.”
“Kind of like what Lexie said, I wish I had explored more. My mom wanted me to be in theatre, and I didn’t. I think my vision was I like basketball, workout, have fun playing with my friends – and that was what I wanted to do and what I felt I was good at. Cuz a lot of kids when you’re not exposed to enough stuff, then you can’t find out what you’re good at. Cuz it could have been that all of us put a lot of time into basketball, and we didn’t find out that musically we’re really gifted.” said Syd.
“Coaches need to be held accountable for things like that.” said Lexie. “Because you don’t know what you’re going to do after.”
“Parents don’t know to talk to the current [college] players or the players who have been there before. But they should really do their research. Because it’s a staff’s job to put a front up a little bit…So they’re not going to tell you, ‘We’re not going to let you go in the summer. You need to be here. We’re not going to let you take any other classes. We’re not going to let you have a harder major. You’re going to have like a general studies. You won’t be able to do shit with when you leave but like – need you in practice, because I need to keep my job. I need wins.’…Do your research on coaches.” said Syd.
All four players have sacrificed so much – especially their time – to have achieved what they have in their careers.
“I think you just have to do what’s best for you at the end of the day. You are in charge of the sacrifices that you’re willing to make and in which area: if you want to make less money, make more money, want to spend time with your family, that’s time.” said Ty.
“Even to this day my mother thanks me and tells me how grateful she is to be able to have seen the world. Because if I wasn’t playing basketball, she probably would have never left North Carolina or left the [United] States. So knowing that the sacrifices that I made also my family was able to enjoy as well made it worth it in that aspect.”
We’re grateful they took the time to share more about their lives and their perspectives with us. Through Ari’s guided conversations hoopers and fans can glean so much from the pros. Be sure to watch here to find out why you definitely don’t want to let Syd anywhere around your dirty floor.