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Mystics' Tianna Hawkins, Natasha Cloud finish 1-2 in inaugural Athletes Unlimited season

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Tianna Hawkins edged out Washington Mystics teammate Natasha Cloud atop the inaugural Athletes Unlimited basketball leaderboard when the five-week season concluded on a triple-overtime game on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Hawkins finished with 6,836 total points in the company's format that puts fantasy sports into a real game format. Cloud, one of the league's first signings and a member of the executive committee, had 5,919 points.

"These five weeks have been nothing short of amazing," Hawkins told reporters on a Zoom call Sunday. "They've given us an opportunity to play basketball in a unique way and unique style."

Athletes Unlimited CEO and co-founder Jon Patricof confirmed on the call the league will continue in 2023. The company's volleyball season begins in March and the newly launched AUX Softball launches in June. Its first league, softball, will return for its third full six-week season in July. It also runs a lacrosse league.

The basketball league is a complement to the WNBA, allowing players to stay home in the U.S. and play rather than go overseas. It provides more roster spots for women's basketball players and puts more games on TV, inching up the low percentages for coverage of women's sports.

Dallas Wings forward Isabelle Harrison finished third with 5,373 points. Chicago Sky champion Lexie Brown finished fourth with 5,317 points. And Kalani Brown, the former Atlanta Dream center who signed a training camp contract with the Las Vegas Aces, moved up two spots to finish fifth with 5,192 points.

Harrison was named the first Defensive Player of the Year and was joined by Brown, Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carringon, Nikki Greene and Lauren Manis on the AU All-Defensive team. Manis recently signed a training camp contract with the Seattle Storm.

CC Andrews was honored with the Sportsmanship Award. Players also chose charities for play for and Athletes Unlimited donates 50% to each based on the bonus money athletes win during the full season.

Hawkins averaged double-double

WNBA players (from left) Tianna Hawkins, Natasha Cloud, Isabelle Harrison and Lexie Brown finished as top-four in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited season. (Provided by Athletes Unlimited)
WNBA players (from left) Tianna Hawkins, Natasha Cloud, Isabelle Harrison and Lexie Brown finished as top-four in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited season. (Provided by Athletes Unlimited)

Hawkins ranked 15th on the leaderboard with 795 points after her first week and build her standings to top-four. She had three of the highest point-earning games at 790, 715 and 702 to climb out.

The top four point-getters each week serve as captains the next. Hawkins performed the role the final three weeks after being drafted by and playing for Kelsey Mitchell and Brown, respectively, in the first two weeks. That meant the 6-foot-3 forward picked her team, ran practices, coached within games while playing and drew up plays.

"My intentions for the draft each week were the same across the board," Hawkins told reporters. "I know that I wanted the best point guard that could keep us organized each week. I know that I wanted people that I knew had good energy that wanted to have fun and wanted to compete. And [who could] also give good balance on both offense and defense. And that had that team-first mentality because through everything, I wanted to win. Winning cures all. In order to get yourself on the leaderboard, you have to win. So that was my motivation each week was to put pieces around myself and create a well-balanced team."

Hawkins, 28, averaged 23.8 points per game and was one of only two players to score in double figures in all 15 games played. She was the only one to average a double-double, adding 11.1 rebounds per game on average. She had double-doubles in 11 of 15 contests.

Mystics champions finish 1-2

Hawkins and Cloud, who were teammates on the 2019 Mystics championship team, faced off in the final game of the inaugural 2022 season late on Saturday. Team Hawkins defeated Team Cloud, 116-111, in three overtimes.

It was against Cloud's teams that she had some of her best and most memorable outings. She currently owns the AU single-game scoring record with 43 points against Team Cloud on Feb. 5. She holds the single-game rebounding record with 18 in that triple-overtime finale.

Hawkins said she had an idea coming into AU camp in January she was going to re-join the Mystics after the Atlanta Dream waived her following one season. But she waited to tell Cloud until a week or two in that she was "coming home."

"From that day forward it's just been great," Hawkins said. "We've been talking trash to one another, but also knowing that this prepares us for later on when we get together for training camp."

Hawkins said AU allowed her to "find my joy for basketball again" and she'll be able to take the confidence she gained into the WNBA season. The WNBA players in Athletes Unlimited will now have more than a month before training camps and nearly two months before playing competitive games again. Most players go overseas and play year-round to supplement income from the WNBA. Tip-off for the 26th season is May 6.