Cal Basketball: Layshia Clarendon Welcomes Veteran Help as WNBA Season Arrives

Sabrina Ionescu is healthy and ready to leave behind last year's 2-20 record
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Layshia Clarendon felt more than an equal share of responsibility for the New York Liberty’s 2-20 record last season. The 30-year-old former Cal star is taking a different approach now as the WNBA prepares to begin its 25th season on Friday.

“I’m not trying to take too much on because last year, especially as the point guard, you take on the weight of the team,” Clarendon said. “And like if you’re losing, `It’s my fault. What are we doing?’ “

The issues for the Liberty last season were primarily two things:

— They were too young, with seven rookies on the roster. “So that was an uphill battle,” Clarendon conceded.

— They played most of the season without No. 1 draft pick and presumed franchise savior Sabrina Ionescu, the former Oregon star, who suffered a severe ankle sprain in the team’s third game and was done for the season.

The Liberty opens its season Friday against the Indiana Fever, and everything will be different. The team has new uniforms and a new home — the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Ionescu is healthy and ready to show that her 33-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist performance in her second game as a pro last year was just a glimpse of her talent.

And for both Clarendon and Ionescu — who will share ballhandling responsibilities — there is something equally significant on this roster: Experience.

From the youthful squad the Liberty fielded a year ago, the team has added key veteran pieces. Natasha Howard, a 30-year-old forward, came to New York in a trade with Seattle for the No. 1 draft pick. Just two years ago, Howard averaged 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, was a first-team All-WNBA pick and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Clarendon said Howard’s “toughness and smarts” will help change the Liberty, although the team announced Thursday that Howard has been temporarily suspended until she returns from playing in Italy and passes coronavirus protocols.

Arriving from Atlanta is Betnijhah Laney, a 27-year-old wing, was averaged 17.2 points last season while being voted the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. “I played with Betnijah before — she’s a person who leads by example and brings a lot of energy in practice,” Clarendon said.

And Sami Whitcomb, a 32-year-old guard who played her college ball at Washington, adds another mature presence. “We connect,” Clarendon said. “We’re all about the wine and the coffee and the good food.”

The change was evident the moment training camp began.

“There’s definitely some hope because I have some backup coming in terms of veteran status,” Clarendon said. “It’s just hard to carry that burden constantly. Even our other star player, Sabrina, is really young. She’s led in college but she hasn’t obviously had the opportunity to lead at this level. There’s a lot of pressure on her.”

Sabrina Ionescu was a mega-star at Oregon

Sabrina Ionescu during her Oregon days

Ionescu, who became the only male or female player in Division I college history to accumulate career totals of 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists, is excited about the Liberty’s prospects.

“I don’t think there’s really a ceiling for what we can accomplish,” she told ESPN.

Clarendon, who averaged a career-best 11.5 points a year ago,

“I’m just trying to play with a little more joy and a little more grace,” Clarendon said. “Lead and talk and do all the things that I would normally do, but kind of let go of the pressure I would put on myself. Kind of let things come to me a little more from that angle.”

Clarendon talks in the video below about being in the player pool for the U.S. team that will play in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Cover photo of Layshia Clarendon by