Atlanta, GA -- While it's important to step up and make shots, get rebounds, and contribute to your team with statistics, it's, even more, key to have the heart and passion when you step onto the court. That's what Atlanta Dream guard Layshia Clarendon brought on Sunday, as the Dream took down the Los Angeles Sparks at home, 91-74.
"I'm going to play my heart out on this court, and that's all you can ask for," Clarendon said immediately following the victory by the Dream.
The Sparks entered today's game with the goal to break the WNBA record of the best start in a season, as they were tied with the Houston Comets for best record at 20-1 and hadn't lost since June 21st against the Minnesota Lynx at home. However, Clarendon and her teammates didn't want to be the ones that handed that record to the Sparks.
"I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because they were trying to set the record on us tonight - so we were kind of like, ‘we're not going to be the team on the wrong side of history,’" Clarendon said. "We kind of had that feeling during warm-ups that everyone was just locked in and ready to battle."
A California native, Clarendon spent her college career playing for the University of California, Berkeley. During her 2012-2013 season, she became a leader of the team and received national recognition for her abilities, including a place as a finalist for the Senior Class Award.
Clarendon's time at the Bears included a first-ever trip to the Final Four and according to former head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, she was always "vocal in terms of helping us achieve those goals."
Clarendon was selected in the first round, ninth overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever and joined the Atlanta Dream this past season. According to her, it's been a slower process than one would imagine. When asked about the journey so far, however, she broke into a huge smile.
"It's been awesome. I kind of take the growth mindset to where every mistake is a process. I'm human, I make mistakes, but how do I learn from that and how do I get better. Even since my rookie year, it's been how do I grow every year. I saw my mistakes; I would look up my stats online.
"My second and third year I decided to not go overseas, so I really had that whole offseason to break down my game, watch film, and see what my weaknesses were so I worked on that a ton, "she said.
According to the Dream Head Coach Michael Cooper, "Getting her (Layshia) was a blessing in disguise. Indiana was kind of backlogged in guards, and they called us and I was very shocked. One thing that you have to love about that young lady is that she can play that physical game; she doesn't mind getting banged on and stuff like that.
"She's doing everything that we ask her to do, she's a great defensive player, she's a great rebounder, and she's slowly but surely learning the point guard traits full-time."
Clarendon, who tied with Angel McCoughtry in terms of points in Sunday's matchup, led in field goal percentage making half her shots. However, she was able to contribute defensively as well with eight rebounds and with Elizabeth Williams' 12, the Dream were able to dominate the defensive side of the ball on top of being able to shine offensively.
It was announced at the beginning of the game that forward Sancho Lyttle would be out of the game, done for the season, but Clarendon and the rest of the Dream stepped up and played with incredible energy.
Consistently making plays throughout the first half, Clarendon shined in the third quarter as a three-pointer, floating bank jump shot, and a contested fast break, layup all contributed to the Dream being able to lead the Sparks by as much as 16 points.
According to McCoughtry, "I told the team, this could be the game that could be the turn-around for the season. If we can beat them (Sparks), we can beat anybody in this league. I hope that the girls take this and build their confidence so we can move forward, contend in this league and do some damage."
After the Dream returns from their away game against the Minnesota Lynx, they continue play at the Hank McCamish Pavilion on Georgia Tech's campus on Friday against the Dallas Wings at 7:30 pm. After a domination of the top team in the WNBA at home, the Dream hope to keep the momentum and positive energy.
Going into the next game, Clarendon believes that it's not just stats that matter.
"It's just those little things; I think the intangibles that we brought weren't the main shots. They were the energy, the effort, the togetherness, the hustle, the heart. Those are the things that you can't teach, that you just have to bring from within every night."