Crystal Bradford

Bradford absorbing AU hoops experience

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
W.G. Ramirez
Mar 21, 2023

Unpredictable was the word used to describe Crystal Bradford.

And four-time captain Naz Hillmon meant it as a compliment.

“Crystal is probably one of the hardest people to game plan for because … when she’s coming down the court, you don’t know if she’s going to pass it, sometimes she’s doing fake in and outs to herself, you just really have to be ready for anything,” Hillmon said.

What you can expect, however, and is seemingly very predictable, is her confidence and competitive spirit.

“You want someone who’s going to go toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose,” 16-year veteran professional Essence Carson said. “Especially in those very important games, where it takes a lot of confidence to be ultimately successful and Crystal definitely has it. If she hasn’t proved it throughout this AU season, I don’t know what else you can ask from her.”

Bradford is averaging a double-double in her first season with Athletes Unlimited, with 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

Her versatility as a wing on the perimeter or shooting forward penetrating the paint has made life hard on defenders, forcing the opposition to dictate what she is doing, or at least try to, rather than sitting back and waiting to see what she will do.

A lot easier said than done.

“She uses her size to an advantage,” Hillmon said. “She just has a very unique style of play. She plays at her own speed and her own pace. (She) can move quickly on the perimeter, or slow things down in the paint.

This is probably why captains NaLyssa Smith and Odyssey Sims have jockeyed for Bradford the past four weeks in the draft. After Smith took Bradford sixth in Weeks 2 and 3, Sims swooped in to draft her fourth in Week 4. Smith wasn’t taking any chances for the upcoming final week and grabbed Bradford in the fourth round.

For Bradford, it’s arguably the biggest week of the season, if not her entire career.


Bradford intended on playing during Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season after speaking with senior director of operations, Kristen Miles.

Tryouts were slated to be held in Atlanta, where Bradford was at the time. She was told she wouldn’t have to try out and was excited to stay in the States. Unfortunately, Bradford was injured and missed the campaign altogether.

“I watched the games, it was nothing selfish about the leaderboard, it was to clock production,” she said. “I’ve always prided myself on what are the intangibles of basketball. So seeing that that’s what they were clocking, I was excited. I knew it was something that I would just enjoy.”

She was right, as she fit right in during the second season, both on and off the court. And it’s been the antics behind closed doors she’s enjoyed the most and said she could see benefits of the league looking into releasing footage in the likes of a reality series.

“I’d say it’s like a game show, I feel like I’m on a game show. Like I’m on “Love and Hip Hop” or “Love Island” – a reality show that’s not scripted,” Bradford said. “I would love for them to get the ‘day in the lives of us’ next year, where they record us like it’s a TV show. Because the off-camera stuff is as funny as on-camera. We have different events. I think the coordinators do a good job. I would love for people just to see more.”

And it’s not just the funny moments, she said, even though Player Executive Committee member Sydney Colson makes it hard to escape them while leaving the women amid laughter. Bradford said there are meaningful encounters and projects the players have enjoyed, too.

Like when Colson had everybody come together to discuss the businesses they’re involved in, in order for everyone to learn something new about one another.

It’s been those special encounters that have helped Bradford’s mental health, something that’s important to the 29-year-old Detroit native.

Which is why she decided to play for the Virago Project, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of all women athletes.

“I just love the fact that we are honing in on our mental health,” Bradford said. “I’ve struggled with ADHD all through my life. And I found that routines work really well for me, the things that I eat work really well and make a difference. The things that I read, things like that really make a difference to my everyday life and my performance on the court.”

Thus, she is hoping to help provide a solution for those who have walked the same path, while continuing her journey to a stable mindset.


Bradford was a first-round, seventh-overall pick of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2015, and appeared in 15 games during that season, averaging 2.7 points per game.

It wasn’t until April 2021 that Bradford would play in the WNBA again, signing with the Atlanta Dream.

But after averaging 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.3 minutes in 24 games, she suffered a fracture in her right foot and missed the remainder of the season.

When a video of Bradford and then-teammate Courtney Williams surfaced with them involved in a fight outside of an Atlanta area food truck, she was released from her contract.

Although there were extenuating circumstances surrounding the altercation, and Bradford and Williams argued they were in danger and acted in self-defense, both expressed remorse and apologized for any embarrassment the incident caused the Dream and the WNBA.

Wiliams returned to the league, signing with the Connecticut Sun and helping lead them to the WNBA Finals last season.

Bradford hasn’t seen another minute and has yet to hear from a team for the upcoming season.

Bradford did sign with the Chicago Sky in February of 2022, but was released before the season started due to the fact the team felt her foot had not healed properly.

With one week left in the AU season, Bradford looks healthier than ever.

She said she has thrived with the coaches who have been on hand to serve as facilitators, help break down film, and work with the players individually between each week’s schedule.

“I’ve improved every single week,” Bradford said. “Thanks to coach Danielle (Vigilone), I work with her all the time, she slows down film, and we work on our inside game, outside game, and free throws. I have improved a lot due to her. I’ve watched coach Zak (Buncik) be my facilitator the last three weeks. I’ve watched him improve, which helped me improve. I think his and my growth has been identical. … I had Pokey (Chatman) the first week and I learned so much. Pokey is a wizard – a ‘wizzzard.’

“The facilitators are a blessing, and I’m big on learning. So I feel like I’m learning like every day, every week, and something new I’m doing every day and every week.”

Be it her footwork, her efficiency, her overall skillset, or simply bringing energy, Bradford said she’s learned to improve progressively in order to bring out the best in her team.

While the individualism in Athletes Unlimited is a big reason to compete, Bradford said she’s rarely focusing on her stat sheet.

“I’m not thinking about myself any more than being an efficient producer than any other time,” she said. “Somebody else was telling me that you have to be a little more selfish … and I don’t think that because if we all are playing together and moving the ball, you’re gonna get your points. So that’s just how I think about it.”

Easily one of the top unsigned free agents, Bradford is hoping her successful run with Athletes Unlimited will land her in a WNBA training camp.

“I think I’ve been pushed to the side and kind of bumped down not just due to the fight, but due to my injury,” she said. “This year, I figured once they saw me play (in AU) I would be signed pretty much right away. But right now it’s just conversations. I don’t know what fear they have because I’m a winner. And anywhere I go, we’re gonna compete.

“I don’t have a doubt once I get somewhere, if it’s a good fit, I can stick.”


W.G. Ramirez is a 35-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez

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