Full roster for Athletes Unlimited Basketball season announced

The inaugural Athletes Unlimited Basketball season will include 16 players with WNBA experience, including Mercedes Russell of the Seattle Storm
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The inaugural Athletes Unlimited Basketball season will include 16 players with WNBA experience, including new signees Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever), Lexie Brown (Chicago Sky), and Mercedes Russell (Seattle Storm).

They join Natasha Cloud, Jantel Lavender, Courtney Williams, a few of the first WNBA players who signed on.

The full 44-player roster (included below) was announced on Tuesday.

Four players- Becca Wann-Taylor, Taj Cole, Briahanna Jackson, and Takoia Larry – earned roster spots via an Athletes Unlimited Open Tryout in December.

While a quarter of the roster was on a WNBA team at the conclusion of the 2021 season, nearly every player – 42 of 44 – has experience playing in an international pro league.

When Athletes Unlimited announced its inaugural basketball league this fall, one of the selling points was that it would allow players to spend more time in the United States.

“I have played overseas, it’s not what I want to do,” Natasha Cloud said when she signed on in October. “I don’t want to spend seven months away from my family. To have a competitive league and stay in shape and transition right in the W is new wave. I’m excited to be one of the pioneers for the basketball side of it.”

READ MORE ABOUT THE FIRST EVER AU BASKETBALL SEASON: Athletes Unlimited gives WNBA players an at-home option

The five-week AU Basketball season – which will be played in Las Vegas – kicks off on January 26 and runs through February 28.

Similar to the other Athletes Unlimited leagues in softball, volleyball, and lacrosse, basketball players will earn points each week based on their team’s results, as well individual statistics. At the end of each week, the leading four players will draft the teams for the following week’s games.

The 44 players will compete for over $1 million in prize money, with the winner receiving roughly $50,000.

Complete Roster for the 2022 Athletes Unlimited Basketball Season:

Position Player University Current Team
G Ciara Andrews Saint Joseph’s Univ. ‘16
G/F Antoinette Bannister East Carolina Univ. ‘17
C Kalani Brown Baylor Univ. ‘19 Hatayspor (KBSL-TUR)
G Lexie Brown Duke Univ. ‘18 Chicago Sky (WNBA)
G Kirby Burkholder James Madison Univ. ‘14 Santurce (BSNF-PUR)
G Marjorie Butler Univ. of Georgia ‘16
G/F DiJonai Carrington Stanford Univ. ‘20⁴ Connecticut Sun (WNBA)
G Essence Carson Rutgers Univ. ’08
G/F Brittany Carter Ball State Univ. ‘14⁵ Keltern (DBBL-GER)
G Natasha Cloud St. Joseph’s Univ. ‘15 Washington Mystics (WNBA)
G Taj Cole Univ. of Georgia ‘19¹ Unicaja Málaga (LF2-ESP)
G Sydney Colson Texas A&M Univ. ‘11
F Drew Edelman Univ. of Southern California ‘16² Hollywood Wonder (WUBA)
C Nikki Greene Penn State Univ. ‘13 Angers (LFB-FRA)
F Kiki Harrigan Univ. of South Carolina ‘20 Seattle Storm (WNBA)
G Rebecca Harris Univ. of Illinois ‘08 Dynamo NPU (SuperLeague-UKR)
F Isabelle Harrison Univ. of Tennessee ‘15 Dallas Wings (WNBA)
F Tianna Hawkins Univ. of Maryland ‘13 Atlanta Dream (WNBA)
G Ariel Hearn Univ. of Memphis ‘16 Sherbrooke Suns (Big V-AUS)
G Grace Hunter North Carolina State Univ. ‘20
G Briahanna Jackson Univ. of Louisville ‘17 Club Aztks (LMBPF-MEX)
G/F Meme Jackson Univ. of Tennessee ‘19 Santurce (BSNF-PUR)
G Tyce Knox Texas A&M Univ. ‘17
F Jessica Kuster Rice Univ. ‘14
F Takoia Larry Texas Wesleyan Univ. ‘14
F Jantel Lavender Ohio State Univ. ‘11 Indiana Fever (WNBA)
C Akela Maize North Carolina State Univ. ‘18 La Glacerie (LF2-FRA)
F Lauren Manis College of the Holy Cross ‘20 Cegledi (NB I/A-HUN)
G/F Danielle L. McCray University of Kansas ‘10 Poznan (EBLK-POL)
F Danielle M. McCray Univ. of Mississippi ‘16 Hannover (DBBL-GER)
C Imani McGee-Stafford University of Texas ‘16
G Laurin Mincy Univ. of Maryland ‘15
G Kelsey Mitchell Ohio State Univ. ‘18 Indiana Fever (WNBA)
F Chelsea Phillips Park Univ. FSV Rijeka (Premijer Liga-CRO)
F Toccara Ross Iowa State Univ. ‘09 Pioneras de Delicias (LBE-MEX)
G Tina Roy Univ. of South Carolina ‘16
C Mercedes Russell Univ. of Tennessee ‘18 Seattle Storm (WNBA)
G Odyssey Sims Baylor Univ. ‘14 Atlanta Dream (WNBA)
G Antoinette Thompson Texas Christian Univ. ‘12 Saarlouis (DBBL-GER)
G Destinee Walker Univ. of North Carolina ‘19³ Niki Lefkadas (A1 National-GRE)
G/F Becca Wann-Taylor Univ. of Richmond ‘14
G Courtney Williams Univ. of South Florida ‘16 Atlanta Dream (WNBA)
G Dominique Wilson North Carolina State Univ. ‘17 Wroclaw (EBLK-POL)
G/F Ty Young James Madison Univ. ‘08 Manati (BSNF-PUR)

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Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.

USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)


  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”