Player Review 2013: Layshia Clarendon

By Wheat Hotchkiss | October 23, 2013

Height: 5-9
Position: Point Guard
Age: 22
Years Pro: 1
College: California
Status: Entering second year of rookie contract
Key Stats: Appeared in 30 regular season games, making four starts. Averaged 4.2 points and 1.8 assists in regular season. Averaged 6.0 points and 2.0 assists in the playoffs. Struggled from the free throw line (10-for-26 overall).

Layshia Clarendon didn’t expect to play much as a rookie. But injuries threw her into the fire, and she emerged a better player.

Clarendon, drafted by the Indiana Fever with the ninth overall pick, knew coming into the season that she was facing a challenge adjusting to the league.

The jump from college to the WNBA is perhaps the most difficult scholastic-to-professional transition in all of American sports.

Rookies get no time to rest. The buzzer from a player’s final collegiate game stops ringing in her ears just in time for her to hear her name called in the WNBA Draft.

This year, Clarendon led California to the Final Four, and the Golden Bears’ season didn’t end until April 7. Eight days later, she was drafted by the Fever. Clarendon was still finishing up classes during training camp and – with encouragement from her teammates and coaches – missed the Fever’s season opener to attend her graduation in Berkeley.

PHOTO GALLERY: Layshia Clarendon Season Gallery »

The relatively small size of the WNBA further complicates rookies’ transitions. With only 12 teams, only the best of the best are on WNBA rosters. Sticking in the WNBA is an arduous task – as evidence, only five of 12 first-round draft picks from 2012 were on a roster at the end of 2013. Even the players that do stick face a prolonged adjustment period upon entering the league.

Despite these hurdles, Fever officials were thrilled to take Clarendon in the first round. They loved her quickness, scoring ability, and versatility to play both the point and shooting guard positions. Coach Lin Dunn went so far as to say on draft night that she thought Clarendon could help Indiana “immediately.”

In training camp, Clarendon worked primarily at point guard behind starter Briann January. Any hope of easing her along quickly disappeared after Erin Phillips and Katie Douglas went down with early-season injuries, joining Jeanette Pohlen, rehabbing from knee surgery, on the inactive list. With the team down three guards for essentially the whole first half of the year, Clarendon saw extensive playing time.

“I got a lot of game-time experience,” Clarendon said. “A lot of ups and downs, a lot of chances to also play through my mistakes because we didn’t really have a lot of numbers, so I was going to stay in the game.”

Despite practicing almost exclusively at the point, the rookie started her second career game at shooting guard and played 38 minutes in an overtime loss to New York. The next game, she played 32 minutes. The game after that, she scored nine points and dished out four assists in 25 minutes against Connecticut.

As players returned, Clarendon’s minutes dropped off somewhat, but Dunn continued to rely heavily on her first-year guard. Clarendon (and her trademark mohawk) got double-digit minutes in all but two of 34 contests.

Still, there were expected growing pains for the Fever’s youngest player.

Clarendon said after the season that she knew coming into the WNBA that the speed of the game would be on another level, but confessed she still struggled at times with that adjustment, especially early in the season. She also faced the difficult task of running the point while still learning a new offensive system, and leaned heavily on veterans like January and Tamika Catchings in the early going.

An intelligent and unassuming person, Clarendon soaked up as much as she could. She was often one of the last players to exit the floor after practice, always staying late to get in extra work.

As the year progressed, she began to find her groove. She looked noticeably more comfortable with the ball in her hands in the latter half of the season. In one three-game stretch in late August, Clarendon had 12 assists to just three turnovers, scoring a career-high 11 points in the last of those games, a narrow loss at eventual-champion Minnesota.

There were still times Clarendon looked like a rookie. She displayed a knack for getting to the rim, but struggled at times to finish. All of Clarendon’s shooting percentages (.331 field goal, .259 3-point, .409 free throw) leave plenty of room for improvement.

But there’s no denying the strides Clarendon made over the course of the season, playing significant minutes in the postseason less than six months after her last college game. That unexpected wealth of experience will serve Clarendon well heading into next season.

“There’s nothing like actually being in the game and playing and knowing the speed of the game,” Clarendon said. “Having a chance to bring the ball up against Danielle Robinson, against some of the best point guard defenders in the league…having that actual time was crucial.”

Much like this spring, Clarendon took little time to rest after her first WNBA season. She’s currently in Prague, playing for USK Praha, one of the top clubs in the Czech Republic.

When she returns for 2014 training camp, Clarendon will no longer be a rookie. Thanks to the experience she gained in 2013, she’ll truly be a seasoned veteran.

FeverBasketball.com is doing Player Reviews for each player on the 2013 Indiana Fever. Check out other stories from this series:

Player Review 2013: Shavonte Zellous
Player Review 2013: Erlana Larkins
Player Review 2013: Karima Christmas
Player Review 2013: Jasmine Hassell
Player Review 2013: Erin Phillips
Player Review 2013: Briann January
Player Review 2013: Katie Douglas
Player Review 2013: Tamika Catchings
Player Review 2013: Jeanette Pohlen