Rae Burrell

Rae Burrell strives to continue greatness and growth in AU Pro Basketball Season 3

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Jonathan Louie
W.G. Ramirez
Feb 26, 2024

As Rae Burrell makes her way through the workout stations at Phase 1 Elite training facility, a voice yells out with authority.

Phase 1 owner Mike Waters doesn’t care if it’s a professional basketball player, professional football player, or college or high school athlete, the message is quite clear: “Don’t be afraid to be great.”

With all due respect, that’s the last thing Burrell is afraid of; never has been.

Her mere 6-foot-2 presence emits motivation and positivity. Toss in an intoxicating personality and infectious smile, plus a competitive edge and desire for success, yeah, Burrell isn’t afraid to be great.

Her on- and off-court attributes have been felt within a historic program at Tennessee, they’ve been felt when she’s gotten into WNBA games during a spotty two-year start to her professional career, they’re certainly felt at Phase 1, and this month they’ll be felt when she joins Athletes Unlimited Pro Basketball’s roster for the league’s third-ever season.

“Her work ethic in general, she works hard when she comes in here,” Phase 1 trainer Chris Reuther said. “Once we start, once she’s under that bar, or into her explosive movements, it’s 100% every time. You don’t even have to tell her that. Her working hard is expected at this point. I don’t have to babysit her. The biggest thing I’m worried about is making sure we’re giving her an optimal workout that day.”


After an impressive career at Tennessee, where she helped lead the Lady Vols to the Sweet 16 her senior season, Burrell was selected ninth overall in the 2022 WNBA draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. But a knee injury after just three games brought an abrupt end to her rookie season.

With the coach who drafted her out of college fired from his position, Burrell did not make the Sparks initial roster following last season’s training camp. But when the Sparks endured a rash of injuries, she was signed to a pair of hardship contracts, one in May and one in June, and ended up playing 29 games for Los Angeles.

She’s played two different years overseas, after her rookie year in Australia and this past season in Belgium, both of which helped her see different styles of play.

Now, she’s facing what is probably the most important offseason of her basketball career.

“It’s important for the offseason to hold yourself accountable because it’s easy in college to have your schedule … but when you’re a professional, that’s on you,” Burrell said. “Nobody’s telling you to get up and go workout and get prepared for the offseason. Your goals are set and it’s what you’re willing to do for those goals.”

Last year the goal was just to make a roster since Derek Fisher had been fired. This year, Burrell is confident she can find the right place and will be patient with what she feels will put her in the best situation. And then, the goal is to make a name for herself in the league.

“I’m just doing everything I can physically and mentally to prepare myself for that,” Burrell said.

Like putting forth every ounce of effort at Phase 1, making sure she’s getting her on-court workouts in, and keeping her mind clear and mental health in check.

Per Reuther, it’s been nothing short of a breath of fresh air for all those who come in contact with Burrell, including him.

“Any performance trainer, that’s what they want to be with, is the elite athletes,” Reuther said. “When you do have some of those top-level athletes, it gives you a little bit more motivation for that day. You want to make sure that what you’re doing is going to translate to them as a professional athlete. I take it as seriously as they do when I wake up in the morning. I’m only here for one goal and that’s to make you a better athlete.”


Though it’s only been two years since she’s been drafted, Burrell said she’s felt the love and respect of her fellow professionals, as she’s tried making connections everywhere she’s been. Thus, there’s a part of her that knows other players have gotten to know and see her work ethic, and respect it.

She’s also become known as one of the best-dressed players in the league, widely popular for her pre-game tunnel walks, and frequently promoted on GQ Sports’ Instagram pages and polls.


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“It’s been nice being able to have my name out there like that – but I want to have my name out there on the court,” Burrell said.

Which is why she is grateful for the bond she’s forged with two-time WNBA champion Kierstan Bell of the Las Vegas Aces.

The two met during the 2022 WNBA Draft, and have been friends ever since. Knowing Bell was headed to Vegas, Burrell’s hometown, it was a given the two would be able to hang out and strengthen their bond.

And when Bell became a popular face during her rookie season with the Aces and during Athletes Unlimited’s second season, she targeted Burrell and urged her to jump on board last season.

“But I was in Australia, so this year she had been telling me (again),” Burrell said. “I was kind of going back and forth about it because I was in Belgium, but then I decided that I wanted to do it.”

Burrell said she knew it would benefit her all-around game, on and off the court, as she could not only work on her shot, finishing and executing, and taking a physical play from older and seasoned veterans — all the things she saw herself improving on during the WNBA last season — but also learn more about the personalities of women she’s barely gotten to know.

“I’m looking forward to playing with other W players that I haven’t even really got the chance to play with,” Burrell said. “Just working on things that I need to work on. Keeping things consistent that I have, like with my shooting and just getting stronger with ball handling. I’m using Athletes Unlimited to work on my own personal things that I know I need to work on. I’m trying to win, too. So whichever team I get put on for that week. I’m just focused on doing whatever I need to help the team win as well.”

From there, Burrell is confident her resilience and ability to keep her head down while working hard and trusting will pay off.

“Knowing that controlling what I can control is all that I can do, I just feel like I’ve learned that throughout these last few years, is just to control what you can control,” Burrell said. “What you can control is your work ethic and your attitude that you bring every single day.”


W.G. Ramirez is a 36-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez

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