The second season of Athletes Unlimited (AU) basketball is now history. It came down to the final game at Dallas’ Fair Park Coliseum—an AU record 50-point performance by NaLyssa Smith to claim the 2023 championship. She overtook Odyssey Sims, who was atop the leaderboard for most of the five-week campaign, and brought a 101-point advantage into the final week of games.
Naz Hillmon, who finished second on the board, briefly took the lead after her Team Hillmon’s 3-0 week with a 355-point advantage that pushed past Sims. The final leaderboard had Smith with 6,811 total points, followed by Hillmon, Sims, and Allisha Gray in the top four spots.
During the closing ceremony following last Saturday’s games, Smith noted, “I feel like I’ve come in second in everything recently, so winning this means everything.”
Along with reaching the century mark in scoring, Smith also notched her league-record 12th double-double with 13 rebounds and completed her inaugural AU season with a league single-game record of 863 leaderboard points. In 15 games this season, Smith ranked second with a 24.2 scoring average and grabbed a league single-season record 184 rebounds.
Lexie Hull was named Defensive Player of the Year and CC Andrews received the Teammate of the Year award. “Thank you to everyone for always allowing me to be myself,” said Andrews, who also received the 2022 AU Basketball Sportsmanship Award.
The league’s All-Defensive Team included Hull, Gray, Jordin Canada, Natasha Cloud, and Ty Young.
Smith and Hull spoke to reporters, including the MSR, during Monday’s AU Zoom call. The two are also teammates with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever—Smith was the second overall pick in 2022 and averaged over 13 points and nearly eight rebounds. Hull was picked sixth overall and averaged nearly four points a game last season.
“I’ve learned leadership roles from being captain a couple of times,” explained Smith, “learning how to pick a team. That’s what I take out of AU.”
Said Hull, “There are a lot of great defensive players. There was a lot of support on every team I played that I play hard defense.” Along with finishing as the AU co-leader with 29 steals, Hull finished among the top players with 12 blocked shots and scored in double figures in 10-of-15 games.
When asked how playing in the AU this season helped them as they soon will go into their second professional season, Smith told the MSR, “I got to work out a lot with my trainer back home in San Antonio. I started lifting [weights] a lot more too. That prepared me going into AU. My body didn’t feel as tired as I did in the W season.”
Hull added that she was able to go back to Indiana each month during the off-season “and work out with whoever is around, whoever was in town.” The two Fever teammates both noted that they are ready for their second WNBA season.
Other highlights –
Gray reached double figures in scoring this season in 14-of-15 outings, including 25 points in a game last week—this was her first AU campaign.
Finally, Athletes Unlimited announced last week that a third season of basketball will take place in early 2024. Details regarding times and locations will be announced at a later date.
The Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Exhibition Tour has started—Minnesota is among nine college campuses where exhibition matches will be staged (April 4).