Layshia Clarendon is the most veteran player the Liberty have.
Clarendon turned 29 years old in May, is in her eighth season and just played her 200th game in the WNBA. Those standards wouldn’t normally make someone the most senior player on a given team in the W, but on the Liberty, that makes Clarendon the most experienced on a team whose “oldest” members have been classified as “baby vets.”
Clarendon has bounced around the league since getting drafted No. 9 overall by the Indiana Fever in 2013. She spent her first three years there, then was dealt to Atlanta in 2016, then was traded to Connecticut in 2018, then signed with the Liberty as a free agent in February. Her best seasons were in Atlanta, where she led the league in assists and made the All-Star team in 2017.
Now with the Liberty, her role has taken on a new meaning. Clarendon typically plays point guard, but under new coach Walt Hopkins, the team is emphasizing positionless basketball. Some of the pressure of running the offense is off her shoulders, but it’s been replaced with the weight of mentoring Sabrina Ionescu as she enters the league.
Clarendon was actually one of the first of the Liberty squad to talk to Ionescu after she was drafted in April. Before the WNBA bubble plan was even thought of, after the Liberty rebuild began, Clarendon took a drive to the rookie near her California home to drop off new gear to her (from six feet away, of course).
Since then, the two have grown closer. Ionescu, in an diary-like essay penned in The Associated Press earlier in July, even made it a point to mention she and Clarendon bike to practice every day from their hotel.
“She just makes people better around her,” Clarendon said of Ionescu at training camp on July 15, “and that’s really nice to have as a point guard playmaker myself, it’s like great to have another point guard playmaker knowing like I could be off the ball sometimes and she could bring it out, but we have like multiple people who can play and lead in different positions.”
Her high praise of Ionescu came the same day the whole team was starting to really feel the exhaustive work training camp requires.
“We just had a conversation after practice,” Clarendon said. She told her younger teammate that “Hey, I know it’s hard, but like we don’t have time for bad body language, we don’t have time to hold your head down, you’ve got to be like ‘I need you to pick me up’ and Sabrina to pick me up and all the people around us because they’re such a big part of our team.’”
That moment came on Wednesday against the Dallas Wings. Clarendon, just the game before against the Seattle Storm, had gone off for 20 points, two rebounds, three assists and trying to lead a team through three quarters without veteran Kia Nurse and a ton of rookies subbing in and out. But against the Wings, she was out of it. And there was Ionescu, exploding for 33 points and carrying a team whose players all seemed to be in an offensive slump. The back and forth will no doubt continue.
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