The world of women’s basketball is growing at a rapid pace, and with that growth has come innovation. Starting Thursday, Athletes Unlimited tips off for its second season, and for the second year in a row will feature representation from the Ohio State women’s basketball program.
Here’s more about the league, how to watch and the Scarlet & Gray players to keep an eye on.
Athletes Unlimited isn’t only a basketball league. It’s basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and softball. Each season has the same goal of giving athletes more control of their profession and enhancing the experience for fans of the sport.
Competitively, it’s a high level of professional basketball. The innovation comes in how games are scored and how teams are formed.
Each of the 44 professionals in the season are placed on a leaderboard, and in every game, each stat picked up earns a certain amount of points. When a team wins a quarter, they earn points. Win a game and its more points. Be voted into the top three players of the game, and there are bonus points there too.
Players can lose points too for fouls, turnovers and poor shooting percentage. The player with the highest point total wins the league. A list of points can be found here.
Teams-wise, there are four each week, with each team playing the other three once per week. The teams change every weekend, with the top four players on the leaderboard earning captain status, choosing their 10 teammates in a snake style draft aired live on YouTube every Sunday.
Last season, it was former Big Ten forward Tianna Hawkins out of the University of Maryland, winning the league championship. For the Buckeyes, a pair of Ohio State legends in guard Kelsey Mitchell and forward Jantel Lavender played in the inaugural season, and one of them returns for season two.
Mitchell, who was recently honored at the Jan. 23 Ohio State game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, returns for her second season. To Mitchell, Athletes Unlimited is crucial.
“Athletes Unlimited is a unique league,” said Mitchell. “It’s that transition of women’s basketball, where its going.”
Joining Mitchell in the upcoming AU season is a three-time Ohio Ms. Basketball winner from Canton-McKinley high school: Kierstan Bell. Although Bell left Ohio State after one season, there’s still strong in-state support for the former Northeast Ohio basketball star.
The first week of the 2023 season is a treat for Scarlet & Gray fans because both Mitchell and Bell are on the same team. Team Sims, or the blue team, will play on the same team for their first three games of the 30-game season.
Each of the two Ohioans also play in the WNBA, with Mitchell leading the Indiana Fever and Bell working towards more minutes with the 2022 WNBA Champions, the Las Vegas Aces.
For Mitchell, Athletes Unlimited isn’t an alternative to the WNBA. In a year where Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained in a Russia, focus shifted to WNBA players needing to play overseas, financially, because they don’t make enough in the United States’ top women’s basketball league.
“To be able to play domestically, without going abroad, is a big deal for a lot of us,” said Mitchell. “To be able to play here, domestically, and still make a little money, financially, to be prepared for the season, just goes to show the wheels that are constantly turning. It just goes to show how much we have and how much we’re worth.”
The worth can also be measured in coverage of Athletes Unlimited. Of the 30 games, 25 will stream live on the WNBA League Pass app, five on CBS Sports Network and Bally Sports and the Women’s Sports Network picking up games each week. Compared to last year when some games were aired exclusively via YouTube stream.
For Mitchell and Bell, Team Sims’ first game of the season pits them against Team Williams, led by Chicago Sky guard Courtney Williams. On Team Williams is forward Naz Hillmon, the former Michigan Wolverines standout and 2021 Big Ten Player of the Year who punished the Buckeyes multiple times in her four years in Ann Arbor.
Other former Big Ten athletes include former Northwestern guard, and three-time B1G Defensive Player of the Year, Veronica Burton and former Maryland guard Lexie Brown.
All season, Land-Grant Holy Land will share weekly updates from Athletes Unlimited, including a focus on Mitchell and Bell.
Games run between Wednesdays and Sundays in each of the five weeks of basketball action. This week, Team Sims starts the season off Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6:00 p.m. ET. Click here for a full season schedule and where to watch.