Competitive spirit, relentless effort, and toughness defined a banner year for LA Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon.
After being out of the league in 2022, the San Bernardino, CA native returned to the WNBA in 2023 and recorded one of the best seasons of their career. Playing both guard and small forward, Clarendon averaged near career bests at 11.1 points per game and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting a blistering 46% percent from beyond-the-arc.
More importantly, with Clarendon in the lineup, the Sparks were 14-10 and showed an ability to compete against any team in the league.
The 11-year WNBA veteran provided the exact offensive push the team needed to propel them back into playoff contention near season’s end. Unrelenting she was, especially under the bright lights of the city that never sleeps.
Clarendon exploded for a career-high 30 points against the New York Liberty on September 7 in 39 minutes of play. The veteran guard was in attack mode early, placing Liberty All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu on skates as she drove to the hoop for an off-balance, contested layup over Ioenescu’s outstretched arms.
Clarendon immediately yelled in an excitement that spread across the Sparks bench, galvanizing a short-handed squad to battle against one of the league’s best teams. Los Angeles narrowly lost to the eventual WNBA Finals bound Liberty, but Clarendon, along with his teammates, made a statement to the women’s basketball world: the Sparks would not quit despite being ravaged with injuries.
“I can impact the game, there are those intangible things I do, just being that glue player, but there is something bigger than that,” Clarendon said of their success. “It’s my experience, the joy I bring to the game, the silliness, the freedom, toughness and grit.”
He averaged 17 points the final five games of the season, and helped lead the Sparks to a six-game winning streak post All-Star break, including a victory over the Aces in Las Vegas. The Sparks were the only team to beat the eventual champions on the road in the regular season. In addition to their individual production, Clarendon also provided invaluable veteran leadership to a younger Sparks backcourt.
Building Something Special
They had an undeniable bond with Sparks first year guard and 2023 first round pick Zia Cooke, who often guarded the vet in practice and was their backup in games.
“The way your experience from playing in this league gives you knowledge, there’s some things you only get from experience,” Clarendon told the LA Times in July. “So you try and pass that down.”
Clarendon’s leadership style was an ideal match for what Head Coach Curt Miller and the Sparks started building in 2023. She provided a high energy offensive punch and remained a cornerstone for younger teammates.
“Layshia has meant the world to us. Just goes to show what determination they have,” Miller said. “Layshia has found a home with us and given us a toughness and an identity that has been really important in this build year.”
When Sparks forward Rae Burrell recorded a new scoring career-high, the young forward cautiously approached Sparks sideline reporter Nikki Kay for her first post game interview.
A foot and a half to the left, was Clarendon standing by, ready to tackle the upcoming forward in jubilation. They hugged Burrell, providing a ‘welcome to the league’ moment of celebration.
“It shows why she is such a capable pro and such a team player,” Miller added.
Clarendon has played professionally for seven different WNBA franchises, but playing in LA was a ‘homecoming’ of sorts. The San Bernardino native played about one hour away from their hometown, making the 2023 season that much more memorable as Clarendon played in front of friends and family.
Extra motivation for a player who needed very little to make the impact they did on the Sparks in the first year under Coach Miller and company. But Clarendon states it best:
“Everytime I step out there on the court, I am going to bring it for the team and the people around me.”