Layshia Clarendon didn’t expect to end up playing for the Minnesota Lynx for most of the 2021 WNBA season, but Clarendon is glad it happened. After unexpectedly being waived by the New York Liberty one week into the 2021 season, Clarendon signed with Minnesota, where they took over starting point guard duties and spent the rest of her ninth WNBA season.
That outcome was a blessing in disguise for Clarendon, and it resulted in an easy decision during free agency to return to Minnesota in 2022 for their 10th year in the league.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for me in free agency. When my agent reached out and asked if I wanted to go back, I was like ‘99.999 percent’ unless some scenario would come up that would have me leave,” said Clarendon, who uses she/her, he/him, and they/them pronouns interchangeably. “I wanted to be back. It’s all about fit in this league; it’s about culture and the people who are around you. Minnesota really has that for me. You see the synergy I had with this team and the city, the fans, our coaching staff, and the ability to just be around the best to ever do it.
“It’s an honor to be back, and I’m just really excited for what it can look like to come in at training camp and build even more with the team.”
In 2022, Clarendon will return for her first full season with the Lynx, and they will continue to be a key piece for the team on and off the floor.
Building On a Strong 2021 Season
Even though Clarendon’s 2021 season was interrupted due to injuries, with the most recent being a right fibula injury, the veteran guard still enjoyed a strong season with the Lynx.
After playing in just one game with the Liberty, Clarendon went on to appear in 21 games for Minnesota in 2021. Starting in 20 of those 21 regular-season games, they finished with averages of 10.4 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.1 rpg, and 0.6 spg while shooting 51.7 percent from the field.
That performance over 21 regular-season games resulted in a mark of 1.2 wins shared (an estimated number of wins contributed by a player), which is the second-best grade of Clarendon’s career. Additionally, Clarendon’s field goal percentage was the best mark of her career, and they recorded the second-best assist and third-best rebound marks of his time as a professional.
“Layshia is somebody that has been a complete team player for us,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “Layshia had a darn good season basketball-wise [in 2021]—career high in field goal percentage and for me was just a joy to coach and X and O with. Having Layshia back was a priority, so I’m happy we got that done.”
In addition to Clarendon’s performance on the court last year, she was a key player who provided a veteran voice and leadership both on and off the floor. That was something the Lynx needed while they were trying to gel together and develop an identity with a fairly new-look roster.
“Layshia had no idea what they were getting into upon arrival,” Reeve said. “We were unsure of who we were identity wise. I think what Layshia brought to the table immediately—and we didn’t bring Layshia in to say, ‘This is what we are missing, and this is what we need you to do’—Layshia was just Layshia. It just fit immediately. … You also saw the momentum of everything as Layshia became more comfortable.”
Clarendon was thrown right into the mix of things with the Lynx with the 2021 season already underway. But now having experience with her new team prior to entering 2022 for a full season together, Clarendon believes the Lynx can only continue to grow and improve as a group.
“You build trust, and that is something that takes so much time. I think it was remarkable to come in and do it that quickly [in 2021],” said Clarendon, who was one of 12 athletes inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor on March 11. “Now I’ve been in the trenches with my teammates, and there’s even more of an ability to coach each other and have that connection that was hard to build right in the moment. Now I can push [my teammates]a little more, and we have that trust and foundation built because we have been through the trenches together. … It’s about building off of last year.”
Playing a Key Role Again in 2022
Minnesota comes into the 2022 campaign looking not only to build on a strong 2021 season—which resulted in yet another postseason appearance and securing the third seed in the league standings—but also to send Sylvia Fowles out on top during her final WNBA season.
In order to accomplish that objective, a goal Clarendon said is at the forefront of the minds of Lynx players and coaches, Clarendon will once again play a key role with Minnesota now that they are healthy and ready to get the year underway.
Clarendon will resume their role as starting point guard to start the new season, filling out a starting lineup that will likely include Fowles, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and newcomer Angel McCoughtry.
With nearly a full year under her belt with the Lynx, Clarendon will hope to continue to build on what worked well during his time in Minnesota to this point, including their mid-range shooting, ability to make a difference on both ends of the court, and stellar pick-and-roll game with Fowles and other Lynx post players.
“When we narrowed it down to what we’re good at, Cheryl recognized my ability to play in the pick-and-roll and to put me in more of those situations,” Clarendon said. “I bring that to the team, and it helps when you have Sylvia Fowles to play in the pick-and-roll with. Having that personnel matters. You have to guard Sylvia Fowles on the roll, and then you have my ability to knock down the jumper that makes it a challenging duo to guard. That helps our team a lot.
“It’s what I do and what I’m really good at, also getting to the rim. Cheryl was like, ‘Do what you do. If that’s your thing, do it.’”
Along with Clarendon’s role on the court, she is also a nice fit in the locker room, providing the team with another veteran leader who has helped establish a vision and identity in Minnesota.
“There’s enough experience in the room to know what it takes to put yourself in the position to get to that point [of competing for a title]. I would say the hunger is really high,” Clarendon said. “Every season is such a lifetime and such a journey. … It takes a laser of a focus to put yourself in that position, and that’s more of my mindset.”
Although Clarendon didn’t expect to land in Minnesota the way they did, the veteran guard is happy with the outcome. Now entering 2022 and his first full season with the Lynx, Clarendon is preparing to have an even larger role with her team throughout the summer.
“I want to be really f**king good at basketball; that’s the thing I want to grow on the most,” Clarendon said about looking ahead to 2022. “There are X’s and O’s things I’m really excited to be a part of from the start and see how much we can grow.”