Rookie Clarendon Provides Late-Season Lift

By Tom Rietmann | August 28, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- At the University of California last season, Layshia Clarendon was named the Pac-12 Conference's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's basketball. Winning that kind of honor at California-Berkeley, one of the nation's top academic schools, means Clarendon knows her way around a semicolon.

And that semicolon is exactly what Clarendon requested to use when asked for a description, employing just one sentence, of her first season in the WNBA.

“An adventure, to say the least; it's been a whirlwind,” the Fever rookie said, smiling about her savvy maneuvering with the punctuation.

On the court, Clarendon is a whirlwind with a golden Mohawk hairstyle.

The 5-9 point guard, drafted ninth overall by Indiana, has seen playing time early and often this year as Indiana has dealt with numerous injuries. There have been ups and downs and choppy performances, but the speedy 22-year-old appears to be turning the corner just as her team (12-15) makes a late-season push for its ninth straight playoff appearance.

Clarendon scored a career-high 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting in last weekend's 84-77 loss at Minnesota, raising her season average to 4.4. She has dished out 12 assists with just three turnovers in her last three games.

All of this comes while she is still gleaning the nuances of the team's offense and defense. But if any rookie can learn those nuances, Clarendon can.

“She's such a high-IQ kid,” said Stephanie White, the Fever's assistant coach. “She understands what we're trying to get into offensively and understands positioning defensively. You need her on the floor.

“The one thing she has done, every day, is continue to get better and better. You're starting to see that with her numbers, but what she brings is so much more than numbers.”

Clarendon plays mostly as a backup to starting point guard Briann January. Veteran Erin Phillips served in that role last season but has dealt with a knee injury for much of 2013. And when Phillips has been healthy this year, she often moves to shooting guard while Clarendon plays the point.

White, who coaches the team's perimeter players, calls Clarendon “a tireless worker.” That trait will help the rookie in workouts over the coming months as she attempts to add muscle to her 140-pound frame. She has battled in her first pro season against stronger offensive players who try to post her up or overpower her on screens.

There have been tough moments on the court, to be sure, just like there are for most WNBA rookies. Four times in her 23 games, Clarendon has gone scoreless. Eight times, she has registered more turnovers than assists.

Through the uneven games, however, Clarendon seems to approach basketball with constant confidence and a no-fear attitude.

“You never know with Layshia if she's feeling great or if she's feeling bad,” White said. “She plays the game the same way, and that is so important for a point guard. It's very important to maintain poise and composure.”

Clarendon understood her first WNBA season would include some jeers with the cheers. She expected differences from her senior year at California, where she averaged 16.4 points and led her team to its first-ever Final Four.

“Being a point guard, it's hard not to have confidence,” Clarendon said. “You're going to get ripped. Sometimes, you're going to turn the ball over. It's good to just try to stay steady.”

Her motto: Have “kind of a short memory. Never too high, never too low. Don't be too hard on yourself.”

Clarendon enjoyed her time at California but also embraces being a WNBA player and being on her own. There are no classes to attend, no assignments to finish. Her spare time now is spent reading books she thoroughly enjoys, mostly non-fiction with spiritual and motivational themes, such as “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller and “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch.

However, Fever practices and extra shooting afterward consume a large chunk of nearly every day for Clarendon. She is hopeful of being a strong, stretch-run asset for the defending WNBA champions, who currently cling to the fourth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

Clarendon understands that having rookie status at this point doesn't come with a license to shy from the playoff-race pressure.

“You have just as much responsibility as anyone else on the team,” Clarendon said, adding that Indiana's young players have gained plenty of seasoning while filling in for injured veterans. “I think that's really going to help us.”