More WNBA players to play in AU basketball league this year

By DOUG FEINBERG

AP Basketball Writer

Lexie Brown is back for a second year of the Athletes Unlimited basketball league after having a great experience in the inaugural season.

She is one of 15 players with significant WNBA experience already signed on to play in the league that will run from Feb. 22 to March 26 in Dallas.

"It brought my confidence back," said Brown, who finished in the top four of the league last season. "That's one of the biggest things for a professional athlete, in 2022, how big being in a good mental place is. It was an amazing experience and a learning experience."

So far, 31 of the 44 roster spots have been filled. New players include Allisha Gray, who helped the U.S. win a gold medal in 3x3 in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and WNBA rookies NaLyssa Smith and Naz Hillmon.

Smith said she watched a lot of the inaugural season last year while she was in college at Baylor and saw how much fun the players were having..

Going straight from college to the WNBA and not having a break was a big reason why Smith wanted to play in this league instead of going overseas.

"I knew that I needed a break," she said. "I didn't want to sit for seven months, so AU gave me the opportunity to take a break and then play."

Brown says that she understands people wanting to still play overseas because of the money that's offered over there which could be a couple hundred thousand dollars for top players.

"Sometimes that money is hard to turn down. I understand that 1000%," she said. "I keep telling as many players as possible, if you come home early you'll have a blast. You'll have so much fun."

So far 21 of the players from last season have returned for the second edition. Defending champion Tianna Hawkins isn't in that group as she is playing overseas this winter.

Athletes Unlimited started in 2020 and also has softball, volleyball and lacrosse leagues in which there are no team owners and players share directly in league profits. The basketball rules are similar to the WNBA and there will be over $1 million for the 44 players to earn with the winner receiving roughly $50,000.

The league redrafts its teams each week with the top four point scorers serving as captains. The league, which will have games on the CBS Sports Network this year, moved from Las Vegas to Dallas.

"I would say Dallas was attractive to us since we have a relationship with the Dallas Sports Commission," said Ilene Hauser, who is the Director of Basketball. "AU volleyball has been playing there the last two years. Dallas is a hotbed for girls and women's basketball. ... We have a number of players that have ties to the state of Texas. A few of them to Dallas and that's a huge draw for us."

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Updated October 25, 2022

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