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Athletes Unlimited basketball starts next week. Here's how it works

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Athletes Unlimited is launching its basketball league this month with a national TV schedule, commentators that include three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes and a top-tier roster of 44 players headlined by Natasha Cloud, Courtney Williams and other WNBA talent.

The first season is being held at Athletes Unlimited Arena at the Sport Center of Las Vegas from Jan. 26 to Feb. 26. There are no set teams; instead, each week four players draft their squads for the week in a fantasy sports format that awards individuals points.

What is Athletes Unlimited?

Natasha Cloud will play in the first season of Athletes Unlimited.
Natasha Cloud was one of the first players to sign with Athletes Unlimited and is on the basketball league's Player Executive Committee. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The leagues are player-run and there are no team owners, coaches or managers. A Player Executive Committee (PEC) meets weekly with AU staff and determines all aspects of the league, from rosters to rules and the scoring system.

In basketball, AU's fourth league, there are four teams with each team playing three games per week. There is an individual winner at the end of the season based on points accrued. More on that below.

The top four point scorers every week are named team captains and draft their team for the next week. The teams are separated by colors: gold (No. 1 scorer), blue (2), orange (3), purple (4). Each captain is allocated up to two minutes per draft pick. There will be 11 players per team.

When does it start?

The basketball season officially begins Wednesday, Jan. 26 with the first set of games. Games are played every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The final games of the five-week season will be held Feb. 26.

The first draft will be held on Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. ET and fans can watch live on the Athletes Unlimited Facebook or YouTube page.

How to watch Athletes Unlimited: TV schedule

Athletes Unlimited games will be broadcast nationally in the United States on a combination of FOX Sports, CBS Sports Network and Bally Sports. Athletes Unlimited will also air contests on its digital channels, including YouTube.

The broadcast team is composed of Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes (color commentary), former coach Carol Ross (commentary) and Cindy Brunson (play-by-play).

The TV schedule for the first week of games is as follows. The full five-week schedule is here.

Wednesday, Jan. 26

Team Orange vs. Team Blue, 8 p.m. ET on AU YouTube, Facebook, Twitter

Team Purple vs. Team Gold, 11 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network

Friday, Jan. 28

Team Orange vs. Team Purple, 7 p.m. ET on FS2

Team Gold vs. Team Blue, 9:30 p.m. ET on FS2

Saturday, Jan. 29

Team Blue vs. Team Purple, 7 p.m. ET on FS2

Team Gold vs. Team Orange, 9:30 p.m. ET on AU YouTube

Sunday, Jan. 30

Week 2 draft, 3 p.m. ET

What WNBA stars are playing?

Lexie Brown
Chicago Sky champion Lexie Brown will play in Athletes Unlimited. (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

A total of 44 players will compete, 16 have WNBA experience and four earned a spot in the league through open tryouts in Atlanta last month. Nearly all have international club experience.

Athletes Unlimited announced it signed Washington Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud and WNBA veterans Sydney Colson and Ty Young as its first basketball players. Cloud knows the system well after watching her wife, Aleshia Ocasio, win the 2021 softball title.

The roster also includes 2021 WNBA champion Lexie Brown of the Chicago Sky, Seattle Storm forward Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan and former Atlanta Dream guard Courtney Williams, who starred in the 2019 Connecticut Sun finals run.

Currently rostered WNBA talent includes: DiJonai Carrington (G/F, Connecticut Sun), Isabelle Harrison (F, Dallas Wings), Jantel Lavender (F, Indiana Fever) and Kelsey Mitchell (G, Indiana Fever).

Forward Tianna Hawkins was waived by the Atlanta Dream in January. Veteran guard Odyssey Sims is an unrestricted free agent reportedly unlikely to return to the Atlanta Dream and Storm center Mercedes Russell is a restricted free agent. Players can sign new WNBA contracts beginning Feb. 1, the beginning of the second AU week.

Former WNBA All-Rookie selection Imani McGee-Stafford is back in professional basketball after last playing for the Wings in 2019. McGee-Stafford, the daughter of Hall of Famer Pamela McGee, took a break to attend law school. Former Baylor star Kalani Brown, who was waived by the Dream last season, will play as is Essence Carson, the longtime New York Liberty guard.

What is the Athletes Unlimited point system?

Players can accumulate points in three major ways: team win points, being voted game MVP, and individual stats on both sides of the ball. Individual work matters, but team wins are still most important as those points account for approximately 64% of the points a player earns during each AU season.

Win points are awarded to everyone on the team and are awarded during individual quarters as well as the overall game. Individuals on the team that wins a quarter (scores more points) earns 50 points. Quarters that are tied roll over to the next quarter with 100 points (50 for each quarter) then up for grabs. The team that wins the game earns 100 points. There are no win points in overtime.

Game MVP points are voted on by players and members of The Unlimited Club, the company's exclusive fan club. There are three MVPs in a game, much like hockey's three stars. The top vote-getter receives 90 points, the second vote-getter receives 60 and the third receives 30.

Then there is a long list of individual stats that can be both earned and lost. There are no individual points in overtime. The point structure is as follows.

Single point on the court — 10 points each (Made free throw is 10 points, 2-pointer is 20, 3-pointer is 30)

Assists, steals and blocks — 10 points

Offensive rebound — 10 points

Defensive rebound — 5 points

Shooting or personal foul drawn — 4 points

Offensive foul drawn — 8 points

Players can lose points for missed field goals, turnovers and committing fouls.

Missed shot (FT, 2-pt or 3-pt): -10 points

Turnover: -10 points

Offensive foul committed: -16 points

Shooting, personal, other foul committed: -8 points

Point totals are referenced and shown throughout a game. Fans can keep up with points on the leaderboard that ranks all 44 players. The top four of the leaderboard after the week's games become captains for the following week. The top point-getter at the end of the season is the Athletes Unlimited champion.