Clarendon could provide immediate help
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Fever Coach Lin Dunn didn't mince words when describing the impact she expects from guard Layshia Clarendon.
"I just think she's going to help this team immediately," Dunn said about the University of California player whom the Fever selected with the No. 9 overall pick in Monday night's WNBA Draft.
Such statements from Dunn have seldom been heard following recent Indiana drafts. Rookies selected late in the WNBA's first round often aren't ready to make instant contributions.
WNBA defensive play requires ratcheted-up intensity. Offenses in the world's top women's league require superb skills and the ability to hit open looks.
In Clarendon, Indiana thinks it landed someone who fits that bill nicely.
“Multi-talented. Very versatile,” Dunn said about the 5-foot-9 Clarendon.
When the Fever opens training camp on May 5, Clarendon will be in the perimeter mix because, Dunn said, the club likes her "scoring mentality. And she can defend. She can create her own shot and get to the rim. And she's really good in the 2-man (pick-and-roll) game. She has a very high basketball IQ."
Clarendon will start camp beside another Pac-12 product, Arizona State's Briann January, at point guard. She will sometimes slide over to shooting guard behind Katie Douglas and Erin Phillips. Clarendon's presence also could be valuable if Jeanette Pohlen -- another former Pac-12 guard from Stanford -- isn't ready to start the season as she rehabilitates from knee surgery.
"We talked to a lot of coaches," Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf said. "Everybody said if you want another scorer, somebody who can play both ends of the floor, (Clarendon) would be a terrific pick and is going to make a great pro.
"She has as good of a mid-range game as we have seen. There were a lot of things that we liked about Clarendon's game -- her foot speed, her quickness, her ability to dribble-drive. She has one of the best pull-up games and can stop on a dime."
Clarendon, from San Bernardino, Calif., averaged 16.4 points as a senior at Cal after also recording double-digit marks as a sophomore (13.2) and junior (12.8). Still, her superb skills and leadership ability went somewhat unnoticed around the nation until she carried Cal to a 32-4 finish in 2012-13, including her school's first appearance in the NCAA Final Four.
Indiana officials kept a close eye on Clarendon all season and worried a little when the Cal player made headlines and gained extra attention from many scouts during her NCAA tournament run. But six of the eight teams drafting ahead of the Fever on Monday night helped Indiana by selecting forwards and centers.
When the No. 9 pick came up, Indiana made Clarendon the third guard taken -- behind Skylar Diggins to Tulsa at No. 3 and Tayler Hill to Washington at No. 4.
For Clarendon, playing for the defending WNBA champions couldn't be sweeter. The move from California, where she has lived her entire life, will be new. But Clarendon has already met Fever star Tamika Catchings, who spoke at the league's recent rookie orientation, and is eager to arrive in Indiana and meet her other teammates.
She's confident in her abilities.
"I think my versatility is one thing, the fact I can play point guard and stop the ball,” she said. “Or I can be a scoring two-guard and guard the best player on the other team.
"I've always gone to teams that were kind of the underdog. Now I'm going to a team that is the defending champ. There are going to be a lot of expectations. ... It's going to be a high bar set from the start. (But) I'm just so thankful and grateful for this opportunity to keep playing basketball. There are so many people who would die to play in the women's best league with the best players from all over the world."
Clarendon was at the WNBA Draft at ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn., where she spoke to Indianapolis media via a teleconference. An American Studies major at Cal, she planned to return to Berkeley to “finish some homework," clean up loose ends and graduate in May.
And when she arrives in Indiana, she will still be wearing her trademark hairstyle -- which became known as her golden Mohawk as she pushed Cal through the postseason.
"It's kind of become my basketball haircut." said Clarendon, who began wearing it last August.
“Tamika (Catchings) saw it, so I think we're good. And I heard Lin Dunn won't mind. I'm definitely going to plan on keeping the hairstyle. It's been my signature so far."
Come May 24, when the Fever officially begins its defense of the WNBA title, Indiana officials are hopeful Clarendon makes another signature with her performance.