The roster for the upcoming campaign is set, and in addition to fan favorites from the first two seasons, AU Pro Hoops welcomes 15 newcomers to the league. And while those 15 may be newcomers to AU Pro Basketball, there is nothing new to their basketball skills.
In what might be the most talented roster in the first three seasons of AU Hoops, here are some players to keep an eye on this season.
Returners to Watch
Essence Carson, Guard
A third-year veteran in AU, Carson has traditionally been a scoring threat and key cog to every roster she’s been on. After finishing 18th on the leaderboard in 2022 with 3,350 points, she dropped to 35th last season with 2,684 points after being inactive for four games. She closed the 2023 season strong with double-figures scoring in three of the last four games, including an AU career-high 21 points in the Week Four finale.
This could be a breakout season for Carson, who could finish the highest she’s finished in three years.
Natasha Cloud, Guard
One of the most popular players in the league after two seasons, the newest member of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury could arrive from an overseas stint with a stress-free mindset now that free agency is out of the way. Cloud finished second on the leaderboard in 2022 with 5,919 points. She dropped to 13th last season with 4,723 points and was named to the AU Pro Basketball All-Defensive team.
Cloud is a flat-out baller who will get your fantasy team plenty of points while accumulating plenty of her own with points, assists or steals.
Allisha Gray, Guard
One of the brightest faces to make her AU debut last season, Gray burst onto the scene by registering 500 or more leaderboard points — including a season-high 601 in one game — six times. She closed the season with 500 or more game points in five of her last five outings. Gray ranked among league leaders in field goals made (99) and attempted (214), finished tied for sixth with 26 3-pointers, and registered 25 steals, also good for sixth in the league.
Gray, who ranked eighth in the league with 25 offensive rebounds and 51 assists, closed her inaugural campaign with AU in fourth place on the leaderboard with 5,748 points.
Isabelle Harrison, Forward
The third-year AU veteran has been a force in each of the first two years in the league. Harrison, the first-ever AU Prp Basketball Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, finished third on the league leaderboard with 5,373 points. Last season she placed sixth on the leaderboard with 5,687 points.
After missing the 2023 WNBA campaign with the Chicago Sky due to injury, it’s conceivable Harrison will be looking to ball out ahead of this season in the W, and could be playing with a chip on her shoulder. Harrison’s diversity at both ends of the court, and leadership ability as a frequent captain, could lead to plenty of weekly points. Is she capable of winning her first overall title once and for all? Absolutely.
Theresa Plaisance, Forward
A sleeper of the returning crew from last season, Plaisance is back for her second season with AU. After winning a WNBA title with the Las Vegas Aces in 2022, she landed in Seattle last preseason but was released before the season started. That didn’t stop her from becoming a face of the league with fellow AU alum Sydney Colson and their comical antics in an “unscripted comedy series” entitled “The Syd + TP Show.”
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Back for her second season, make note Plaisance finished 12th last season with 4,777 points after registering 300 or more leaderboard points in 9-of-15 contests, including two outings with 500 or more points. The veteran professional is sneaky good and could prove to be a viable asset for any fantasy team.
Kalani Brown, Center
Back for her second season with AU Pro Hoops, the 6-foot-7 center was a starter in all 15 games during the inaugural campaign in 2022. Brown finished fifth on the leaderboard that year with 5,192 points. She hit the 500-point plateau four times and finished that season as the eighth-leading scorer with 16.3 points per game. She was one of eight players in the league to post 12 or more double-digit scoring performances.
She was a force on defense, leading the league with 17 blocks. Brown played for the Dallas Wings last season, hit double-digit scoring in 15 of 32 games and finished the season averaging 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game. She recently signed a multi-year deal with the team.
Expect Brown to have another big season in AU basketball.
Newcomers to Watch
Zia Cooke, Guard
Coming off her rookie season with the Los Angeles Sparks, Cooke is one of the most prolific scorers to hail from perennial powerhouse South Carolina, where she finished as the eighth-leading scorer in program history. A member of three NCAA Final Four squads, including a 2022 NCAA championship, Cooke appeared in 39 games as a rookie with four starts with the Sparks and averaged 4.8 points and 0.9 rebounds per game.
Considering what she’s capable of, Cooke could be looking to flex in her rookie AU campaign, after a rather pedestrian rookie season in the W.
Tiffany Mitchell, Guard
Another South Carolina product, Mitchell is coming off her first W season in Minnesota after spending her first seven in Indiana. Mitchell’s diversity at 5-foot-9 will find her contributing on the scoreboard and cleaning the glass with rebounds. Mitchell, who scored in double figures in 11 games with the Lynx, saw her average go from 6.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 2022 to 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds last season.
She owns career averages of 9.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Just in front of Cooke as the seventh-leading scorer in South Carolina history, Mitchell is poised to thrive in the AU format.
Rae Burrell, Guard/Forward
A do-it-all swing guard, Burrell can thrive on the perimeter or dominate in the paint. Her background in soccer and extensive offseason training program has provided her with incredible footwork. Be it her first step off the dribble, or fending off defenders in the paint, Burrell is a menace for the opposition. Her 3-point abilities can be scary good when she’s feeling her range.
Burrell recently signed with the Los Angeles Sparks and the AU season will provide her with an opportunity to show off her scoring ability and knack for getting into the paint.
Haley Jones, Guard/Forward
This very well may be ‘thee’ newcomer to watch this season, as the Jones we came to learn about Stanford could take the AU season by storm. She closed out her collegiate career as the only player in Stanford history with 1,400 points, 800 rebounds, 350 assists, and 100 blocked shots. Her style of play at both ends of the court emits production, while her discipline exemplifies and complements what she brings to the court. At Stanford, she averaged only 1.6 fouls per game, and in her rookie W season last year, she averaged 1.7 fouls per game with Atlanta.
Jones will be a solid addition to any team that drafts her weekly.
Angel McCoughtry, Guard/Forward
AU’s beloved Ty Young has been known as “the OG” for the first two years, and now she’ll be joined by one of the most decorated professional women’s basketball players. McCoughtry is a five-time WNBA All-Star, has landed on numerous all-WNBA teams, is a defensive stalwart, and should be an instant grab in every draft — if she’s not captaining her own team. The five-time gold medalist with Team USA remains the all-time scoring leader at Louisville (2,779 points) and was the 2009 WNBA Rookie of the Year after leading all first-year players in scoring and steals.
Now a first-year AU player, make note of the new O.G. in town.
Maddie Siegrist, Forward
The all-time scoring leader in Villanova history, Siegrist finished her college career with 2,896 career points while grabbing 1,102 rebounds, which ranks second in school history. Siegrist also ranks fifth with 210 made 3-point field goals and 131 blocked shots for Villanova, added categories that will gather plenty of fantasy points in AU Pro Hoops.
Though she played in 39 games with the Wings as a rookie in 2023, she wasn’t necessarily afforded the chance to put her true talents on display in playing just 8.2 minutes per game.
Odyssey Sims, Guard
If we’re going to observe returners and newcomers to watch, we have to hone in on the one player to watch in terms of who could walk away with this year’s title. Sims placed sixth on the leaderboard in 2022 with 5,043 points and followed that with a third-place finish last season with 6,383 points. In 2023, Sims became the first player in league history to serve as a captain during all five weeks of a season and went on to lead AU Pro Hoops with 3,273 stat points and tied for sixth with 420 MVP points.
The 10-year WNBA veteran is coming off her lowest-scoring production season after averaging 2.0 points per game in 28 games as a reserve with the Wings. That alone will fuel the fire of AU Hoops’ best overall player through the first two seasons and could spark a rather motivated campaign. If there is one player who stands out as one of the early favorites to emerge as overall champion, it’s Sims.
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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