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 led Atkins to make the decision to head home early. Before then, 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's if you look past her Team USA obligations 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 one can imagine, she's enjoying the time off.
But that did not keep her away from a basketball court for the seven months in-between seasons. She joined a youth clinic in Raleigh back in November and recently caught up with NBC Sports Washington while coaching at the NBA Academy Women’s Camp in Latin America.
"I always enjoy being a part of anything that I can do to give back to the basketball community," Atkins said.
"A big reason why I didn't go overseas 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 top high-school-age prospects from 13 Latin America and Caribbean countries received basketball-development training and took part in daily competitions.
By no means is it the first time Atkins has coached in a camp of this style. But being able to step away from playing in other countries is opening up new avenues for her. Coaching at the NBA Academy is not something she could have done in previous years simply because she wasn't stateside. Her free time has also allowed her to join several panels in the D.C. area and make plans to release her own clothing line later in the year.
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All those opportunities have opened her perspective of what she can do outside of 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 think it definitely gives me a different avenue and different opportunity. It's not to say I'll never go back overseas, but it is eye-opening to know that there are opportunities not only over here in the States, but just for me being who I am and growing into who I am not only as a person, but I guess you could kind of say like an ambassador for the game."
Much of the flexibility Atkins has now can also be credited to her new contract. Last offseason the guard signed a two-year extension that came with a big pay raise. Her salary from the 2022 season nearly matched the total she accumulated on her four-year rookie deal.
Now, she doesn't have to go overseas to simply make a living as a professional basketball player. She can enjoy the benefits 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 see my family kind of when 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 kind of, I guess, learning how to not be an athlete all the time," Atkins said.