Three Athletes Unlimited basketball players with WNBA potential

(Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

While Athletes Unlimited basketball is making an impact on its own, the new domestic league also gives players a platform to showcase themselves for WNBA coaches. Some have yet to crack a roster in the competitive WNBA, and others might be trying to get back into the league’s ranks.

Through three weeks of the inaugural AU basketball season, two players have already benefited from the arrangement. Guard Taj Cole signed a training camp contract with the Connecticut Sun early in the season, and on Tuesday, Kalani Brown did the same with the Las Vegas Aces.

As Week 4 gets underway Wednesday night, here are three players making their case for a WNBA contract of their own.

(Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Essence Carson

Carson, a 13-year WNBA veteran, signed on with AU after taking a year off from basketball. During her career with five WNBA teams, she’s averaged 7.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and won a championship with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016. The former No. 7 overall pick is currently a free agent, having last played for Connecticut in 2020.

Despite the year off, Carson made a seamless transition into AU basketball. Through nine games, she’s averaging 10.7 points, four rebounds and 2.3 assists and is currently 14th on the AU leaderboard with 2,350 points. The guard shined in Week 2, accumulating a season-high 573 points against Team Harrison on Feb. 2 and helping Team Brown to a 3-0 record.

Carson will be on Team Hawkins this week, reuniting with Tianna Hawkins for the first time since her standout performance in Week 2.

(Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Lauren Manis

The Week 3 draft produced some fireworks when Lexie Brown picked Lauren Manis ahead of Natasha Cloud, who protested the selection over the live stream. Cloud had reason to do so: Through nine games this season, Manis is averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 22.2 minutes per game, earning MVP 3 honors in Game 13.

“She’s a dog,” Cloud said. “Her motor constantly goes. She does all the little things that won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.”

At Holy Cross, Manis was the first player, male or female, to reach 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. She holds the Patriot League record with 1,188 rebounds for her college career.

The Las Vegas Aces selected Manis 33rd overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft and invited her to training camp last year, but she was waived and wound up overseas, playing for Cegledi in Hungary. While there, she averaged 16 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists in eight games.

To back up the production, she has one key WNBA player in her corner.

“Someone’s gonna pick her up, and if they don’t, that’s a huge mistake,” said Cloud, a 2019 champion with the Washington Mystics. “I think that she can come in. Clearly, she is ready to play in the W. She spent that year overseas, she got better, she came back and she’s proving herself in this league.”

(Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Destinee Walker

Walker has come into her own over the past four games and risen steeply up the AU leaderboard as a result. After scoring 22 points for Team Cloud at the end of Week 2, Tianna Hawkins picked her up in Week 3 and she flourished, averaging 14 points, three assists and 2.7 rebounds. In the six games prior to that, Walker averaged 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and one assist.

In the final game of the week against Team Brown, Walker recorded 21 points (on 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range), six rebounds and five assists, vaulting up the leaderboard with an additional 592 points. She’s currently in 16th place on the AU leaderboard with 2,277 total points.

After transferring from North Carolina and playing her fifth and sixth years at Notre Dame, Walker went undrafted in 2021 and was picked up by the Dallas Wings on a training camp contract. She was later cut and made her way overseas, where she played for Niki Lefkadas in Greece.

Walker will be back on Team Hawkins this week, with the potential to make an even greater impact.

Others to watch

  • Ty Young (13th on AU leaderboard): 8.7 points, 3.8 assists, 62.7% field goal shooting
  • Jessica Kuster (15th): 7.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 44.4% 3-point shooting
  • Sydney Colson (18th): 11.3 points, 5.8 assists, 2.2 rebounds

Emma Hruby is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.