How Layshia Clarendon passed GM Jonathan Kolb’s litmus test
In considering what the New York Liberty needed in a new head coach, Walt Hopkins passed general manager Jonathan Kolb’s litmus test.
Apply that same set of variables to newly signed New York point guard Layshia Clarendon, and she aces the test, according to Kolb, telling High Post Hoops in a phone interview that Clarendon “checked all of [their] proverbial boxes.”
“[She’s] highly respected around the WNBA from her peers as well as coaches,” Kolb said. “Somebody that we’ve thought highly of for a long time.”
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- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 28: All-Rookie team announced
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 10: Dream are (mathematically) stayin’ alive
So what’s that litmus test? Let’s look at a few factors.
Team culture, locker room leadership, and cultural sensitivity
Kolb said Clarendon is a natural leader and will be an extension of the “coaching staff on the floor.” He compared her leadership abilities to that of Tanisha Wright, who I can confirm has retired and won’t be returning to New York in 2020.
But the difference between the two is in age (28 in comparison to 36) and efficiency. Clarendon has never had a turnover rate north of 20 percent, which can’t be said of Wright. As a primary ball-handler last year, the veteran turned the ball over 28.4 percent of each 100 plays she had the ball.
Kolb also mentioned that Clarendon’s time away from the floor on the Sun’s bench while recovering from an injury will only aid in her role as a floor general and a leader on both sides of the ball. Also, Clarendon is a beacon of inclusivity who stands up for her own rights and those of others on a regular basis, which is one of the qualities that is vital for being on a Brooklyn based team and one that includes very diverse cultures.
Clarendon is a UC Berkley alumna and overlapped with both Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd. The three even had a Bears reunion with former Liberty assistant Coach Charmin Smith during the preseason in 2019.
This too: Clarendon and Hopkins are very close and have been for at least four years. Not only have they worked together on the guard’s own basketball development back when Hopkins ran his own individual training business, but Clarendon was a regular feature at skills camps for students. Also, Hopkins was present at Clarendon’s wedding in 2017.
In our discussion, GM Kolb noted a “mutual interest,” a bet on this friendship and professional partnership. And amid a down year in shooting, he’s heard that via her work with USA basketball and elsewhere, Clarendon is “already working” on it.
“Bringing in Walt, as we talked about in the press conference, his ability to develop players and he’s already worked with Layshia in the past,” Kolb said. “And he really believes he can increase Layisha’s game.”
On the court needs
On a list of winners and losers of WNBA free agency, SB Nation’s Matt Ellentuck declared that Sabrina Ionescu is in fact a winner. But, the Liberty win as well with Clarendon. Let’s remember where exactly New York needs on-court improvement.
In 2019, the Liberty struggled to find consistency at the point guard position. Head coach Katie Smith had to resort to a seasoned shooting guard with a very high basketball IQ in Wright.
While the incoming Sabrina Ionescu is a phenom for Oregon, fans mustn’t overlook the transition process from the college circuit into the W, a league that has by far the best talent in the world. The WNBA offers a physicality that Ionescu will have to adapt to and she’ll have a seasoned point guard and mentor in her corner, whom Kolb calls “cerebral” and “great [on] pick and roll.”
Kolb is also excited about Clarendon’s ability to charge the lane, and kick out to create open looks on the perimeter for one of New York’s sharpshooting wings. But Clarendon’s most valuable asset, not only to her apprentice but to the Liberty, will be her skills on defense.
Playing defense in the WNBA is a whole other ballgame than in the NCAA. I remember Asia Durr telling me in the locker room last summer how much of an adjustment she had to make in her first couple of games as a rookie. According to the Liberty GM, Clarendon will facilitate talking on defense as the Liberty had a tendency to over help last season.
“In terms of defense, we are going to be aggressive,” he said. “She’s a great on-ball defender. But she’s also a quarterback on defensively in terms of she talks on that end of the floor, she directs people on that end of the floor and she’s a leader on that end of the floor.”
A New York State of Mind
When I spoke to COO Keia Clarke in October, she told me that a goal of hers in the Liberty moving permanently to Brooklyn would be “reestablishing” the organization as one “that leads” in the WNBA.
Clarendon is someone who leads, and is the first Vice President of the WNBPA. She was on the front lines negotiating a groundbreaking document for female athletes, the new CBA.
Similar to Hopkins, Clarendon won’t be someone who shies away from civic engagement opportunities in the Brooklyn community. She is someone who self-identifies as an activist and is willing to put herself out there to speak up for anyone marginalized or seeking help.
That is a New York state of mind.
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