Layshia Clarendon feels at home with the Sparks – Orange County Register

TORRANCE — After a 10-game sample size, it goes without saying that the Sparks are better with veteran guard Layshia Clarendon in the starting lineup.

“I would say, your dreams will come true,” Clarendon began when asked for a message to a younger Layshia. “You will have a lot of heartache within this game, but it will all be worth it and to always know that you’re valuable no matter what happens.”

The Sparks are 6-4 when Clarendon starts. Without Clarendon, the Sparks have gone 3-11.

“We missed her for 14 games. Certainly, you can feel it when we didn’t have her and you feel the difference when we do have Layshia on the court,” Sparks first-year head coach Curt Miller said.

Clarendon, a San Bernardino native, grew up going to Sparks games, traveling more than 60 miles each way. Ten years later, the 5-foot-9 Cajon High graduate is finally playing at home in Southern California for the first time in their professional basketball career.

However, the journey to get back to Los Angeles as a pro has been arduous.

“I’ve been a starter in this league. I’ve been a bench player in this league. I’ve been an All-Star,” Clarendon said. “I’ve been out for one year, so I just know every single role in this league and I know how valuable they are and I know how hard each and every one is. None of the roles are easy. People think starting is easy. People think, ‘Oh, you’re on the bench.’ There’s pressure and there’s difficulty to every single role in this league. It’s how can you perform consistently through them all.”

The 32-year-old Clarendon is the definition of a veteran point guard, having played for six of the 12 WNBA teams.

But for the first time in their career, Clarendon has taken on a new challenge of playing out of position as the Sparks’ starting small forward. They’re averaging 7.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, shooting an above-career average 35.2% from 3, while playing a near-career high 27.3 minutes per game.

“It’s putting yourself in position to win games and doing those little things,” Clarendon said. “Being in the right spot defensively, the energy that I bring, the tenacity that I bring that I’m not going to get punked out on the court. That’s the level of fierceness that I bring to the team that I play with and it’s hard to win in this league, every night you have to work extremely hard to try and win games in this league.”

Clarendon was one of several players hit by a rash of injuries and illnesses this season. Before being sidelined for what was supposed to be four to six weeks with a partial tear of the right plantar fascia, the Sparks were 4-2 with Clarendon as a starter. At the team’s training facility Saturday at El Camino College in Torrance, Clarendon explained the journey of hard work and dedication it took to return to action in four weeks.

“My timeline went really well,” they said. “I did everything I could possibly do from nutrition, acupuncture, massage, sleeping, meditation, just to try and give your body the best possibility to recover. I take a lot of that stuff seriously and some of it’s luck when you come back. Perfect timeline, no hiccups, credit to myself and the medical staff for my body healing.”

“She brings us a toughness,” Miller began. “High basketball IQ player, so she understands and takes things from the film room and executes it onto the floor in game time … she gives us a real general that way. Her versatility has helped us. The other night against Indiana, Jordin (Canada) was tired chasing Kelsey Mitchell around as much as she did defensively that we were able to move Jordin off the ball and get a little bit of rest and put Layshia at the point guard. Her versatility to guard and play wing, but also get the point guard position and move Jordin around, that versatility is so important for us.”

As a junior, Clarendon led Cajon to a 2008 CIF Southern Section title. As a senior, the all-state selection was named Inland Empire girls basketball player of the year by the San Bernandino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and Riverside Press-Enterprise in 2009. Clarendon went on to star at Cal and was selected ninth overall in the 2013 draft by the Indiana Fever, later earning an All-Star nod with the Atlanta Dream in 2017.

Now she’s home – or close to it.

“Fourth of July, I got to drive to San Bernardino and see my dad,” Clarendon said. “That’s something that I haven’t got to do for 10 years of my whole career. I’ve always lived so far.”

“I think any time there’s comfortability, it’s great for players,” Miller explained. “Her family is here now with her. She feels like she’s got a home. She was searching, didn’t play last year in the league, was searching for a home. I just think there’s comfortability this year with L.A.. She knows that she has a spot here and she’s thriving here.”

Stewart and Liberty come to town

The Sparks (9-15) will host the New York Liberty (18-6) on Sunday at Arena, with a supreme motivation for the teams to play well in front of a national audience on ESPN.

“The focus is us and what we need to do,” Miller said when asked about Sunday’s matchup against New York. “There’s certainly discussion points about New York that it will be their third game in four days coming off a tough schedule of games, so we understand that we could catch them with some jet lag. But at the same time, Courtney (Vandersloot) didn’t play (Friday night) and she’ll energize them back at the point guard position. They’ll want to step back up to the plate after their (88-83 loss at home to the Minnesota Lynx).

“But really our focus (at Saturday’s practice) was more about us, what we think we can accomplish against their defense, what our attack looks like and then what our defensive approach is against them.”

New York forward Breanna Stewart, a five-time All-Star, two-time WNBA champion and the 2018 WNBA MVP, is averaging 23.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks in her sixth season in the league.

The Sparks also have another former MVP to contend with Sundy. Jonquel Jones, who played for Miller with the Connecticut Sun, is averaging 16.2 points and 12.0 rebounds in six games after the All-Star break.

“JJ has been great since the All-Star break, looks like her MVP self,” Miller said. “She’s a rebounding monster. She’s arguably the best, if not one of the best, offensive rebounders in the game.”

Miller said his team, facing New York for the first time, will have to be in the proper positions to defend the 3-point line. New York is attempting nearly 30 3-pointers per game while shooting a league-leading 37.7% from beyond the arc. In fact, 36.6% of New York’s points come from 3-pointers.

Every game matters for the Sparks, who are currently ninth in the standings and battling the Chicago Sky (9-15) for the last playoff spot.

Meanwhile, Clarendon knows what it is going to take to win during the team’s two-game homestand against New York on Sunday and Tuesday.

“It’s going to take grit and toughness and fierceness that, at the end of the day, X’s and O’s won’t matter. That can’t win the game for you, it’s going to take a level of, ‘Are you willing to go out there and punch them in the face?”’ Clarendon said with a chuckle. “Figuratively obviously.”


When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: Arena


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