“Man it’s everything and more that I could’ve imagined…You know the older I’m getting, I want to leave this game better than I found it. So now that we’re finally here, finally at this day, I’m just so proud to be one of the 44 women here creating opportunities and resources for the next generation.” said AU hooper and member of the player executive committee Natasha Cloud on opening day of Athletes Unlimited Basketball.
Welcome to basketball 2.0. A magical place where basketball is played in a totally different format from the WNBA. But don’t worry, there’s still some WNBA in there: 16 of the 44 Athletes Unlimited Basketball players have W experience.
It’s time to get all caught up on the new format so you can enjoy the games. So today, we’ll do a deep dive on Athletes Unlimited Basketball rules, so you know what to expect when you watch.
Here’s how the model works. It’s a 5-week season, there are 4 team captains, the captains draft their teams each week, and there are no coaches. Some of the biggest differences include:
The power is in the hands of the players. There are no owners, GMs, long-term contracts, or even coaches. A Player Executive Committee (PEC) meets weekly with AU staff and determines all aspects of the league, from rosters to rules and the scoring system.
The league does have four non-playing facilitators: Team Purple will enjoy leadership from Shelley Patterson, Team Blue has Pokey Chatman, Team Orange has Danielle Viglione, and Team Gold has Plenette Pierson’s support. These are people with coaching experience who serve as advisers to players during games and practices. They don’t dictate the plays but are there as a resource.
Because of that, players with coaching experience, such as walk-on Tina Roy, will be invaluable to their teams. Their basketball IQs will give them the opportunity to impact their team’s success with play-calling and in-game adjustments.
“I think you can have all the skills, but I think having a basketball IQ gives someone leverage over you, honestly,” Tina said. “Because the person could be really good, but if they’re not a smart player, you’re not sure what they’re going to do when they get out there.”
The structure also gives players the chance to play with more freedom. Coaches tend to have specific systems. So, players have to fill a certain role, which limits how much individuals can showcase their skill sets. Changing teams every week makes sure that players can demonstrate different skills.
“I think that’s just the biggest takeaway: being able to still sacrifice but also being able to showcase your skills based on what team you are in and what your team needs weekly.” said AU participant and Maryland Terrapin alumna Laurin Mincy.
However, it’s not easy to have all the responsibility! “It’s a huge challenge, a huge challenge being a player, coach, slash captain.” said Blue Team Week 1 Captain Odyssey Sims. “[The] Biggest challenge was yesterday: Game 1. It was a lot because it was the first game of the inaugural season, new women’s league, I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie. There was a point where I literally forgot to sub. I was like ‘Oh snap, let me get my other team in – I gotta get players out. We’re tired.’ – myself included.”
“And I’m a point guard, so I am already paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of everybody. But to actually be a coach too, on top of that, was like whoa! But I got my help…I do like being the captain of this week, you know, week one. But it’s not going to be my goal going forward.”
The creative scoring system is kind of like fantasy sports, where individuals stack up points — in this case, the player with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the only league champion. That’s right, a team does not win.
Each athletes’ points determine whether they get bonuses added to their Athletes Unlimited Basketball base salary, and could land them in the seat to be a weekly team captain.
They can earn points for things like a steal, and lose point for things like a foul. The live leaderboard shows how many total points each player has, and provides a break down of their win points (points earned when their team wins quarters and games), stat points (points earned for offensive and defensive plays), and MVP points (points earned via MVP votes by players and fans).
There are four AU Hoops teams: No. 1: Gold; No. 2: Blue; No. 3: Orange; No. 4: Purple. And each team has 11 players. But the makeup of the four teams changes each week of the season, with each team drafted by a captain. The top four players in points at the end of each week become the next’s weeks captains. Each captain will be assigned to a team color based on their standing. Then, over the weekend, they draft their team.
Team captains can consult with anyone they want prior to the opening of the draft, including any Athletes Unlimited staff, former coaches, and teammates. Each week during the draft every captain will be allowed up to two minutes per pick. Once a player is selected their captain may consult them for further decisions. Once all 44 players have been selected to a team, it will be time to prepare for the upcoming slate of games and get ready to play ball.
Here’s everything else you need to know.
The Athletes Unlimited Basketball season is 5 weeks. This year it runs from Jan 26 through Feb 26, 2022.
Each team plays 3 games per week for a total of 15 games per team, 30 games total.
No. While this league gives players who weren’t drafted to the WNBA an opportunity to play professionally, it’s not a developmental league. Part of its appeal right now is the big-name WNBA players who are taking part in it.
That means it could be a challenge to keep the league afloat for the long haul as an option for hoopers who are probably deciding between making a living by playing professionally or choosing to forgo the pro life and take on a non-athletic career reports Bleacher Report. The Athletes Unlimited league walks in the space between those lives as it exists right now, counting on athletes to take a chance. If they do have a professional job, they need to find a company willing to let them attend the five-week league, or risk potentially losing their job.
And while the decision might be a tough one for athletes, the decision should be much easier for fans. With non-stop action in a game where every quarter matters, top tier talent, and a broadcast team including of Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes (color commentary), former coach Carol Ross (commentary) and Cindy Brunson (play-by-play), there’s no excuse not to tune in.
Header photo captured by Jade Hewitt for Athletes Unlimited.