WNBA

Ariel Atkins enjoys a true ‘offseason’ and takes on a new role as ‘gaming ambassador’

Last WNBA offseason, Ariel Atkins spent her time playing on a Ukrainian basketball team before the Russian invasion prompted the league to move to Bulgaria. Two years ago, she was in Turkey before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Atkins to make the decision to return home early. Before that she traveled halfway around the world to play in Australia’s WNBL and before that Poland.

It wasn’t until this offseason, following the 2022 campaign, that Atkins got a true break from the game for the first time since before she was drafted. And that is if you look past her Team USA commitments at the FIBA ​​World Cup in late September.

This year she made the offseason a true “off” season; no overseas basketball for the first time in her professional career. As you can imagine, she is enjoying the break.

But that didn’t keep her away from a basketball court during the seven months between seasons. She joined a youth clinic in Raleigh back in November and recently caught up with NBC Sports Washington while working out at the NBA Academy Women’s Camp in Latin America.

“I always enjoy being a part of anything I can do to give back to the basketball community,” Atkins said.

“A big reason I didn’t go abroad is so I could accept opportunities like this.”

The camp took place over four days in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Atkins was one of three current WNBA players involved in the event. There, 29 of the best high school age prospects from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean received basketball development and participated in daily competitions.

This is by no means the first time Atkins has trained in a camp of this style. But being able to step away from playing in other countries opens up new avenues for her. Coaching at the NBA Academy is not something she could have done in previous years simply because she was out of state. Her free time has also allowed her to participate in several panels in the DC area and make plans to release her own clothing line later this year.

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All of these opportunities have opened her perspective on what she can do beyond being an athlete. A year off has given her a new outlook on her career and what the next chapter will look like.

“It’s definitely helpful,” Atkins told NBC Sports Washington about if this offseason opened her eyes to how she can approach future years. “I definitely think it gives me another path and another opportunity. It’s not to say that I never want to go back overseas, but it’s eye-opening to know that there are opportunities not only here in the United States, but just for me to be who I am and grow into who I am, not only as a person, but I guess you could say as an ambassador for the game.”

Much of the flexibility Atkins now has can also be attributed to her new contract. Last offseason, the guard signed a two-year extension that came with a big raise. Her salary from the 2022 season nearly matched the total amount she accumulated on her four-year rookie deal.

Now she doesn’t have to go abroad just to make a living as a professional basketball player. She can enjoy the perks of being a two-time WNBA All-Star, a gold medal-winning Olympian and a proud member of Team USA.

“I mean, it’s been fun. I’m enjoying it, having the ability to go and see my family whenever I want, kind of building on my own training schedule. Working on some things outside of basketball, it’s been really fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed, I think, learning how to not be an athlete all the time,” Atkins said.

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