Sun's Clarendon is a jack of all trades and master of them all

Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon, right, charges Minnesota Lynx guard Sydney Colson on defense in the second half of Friday night's WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Clarendon finished with 14 points, five assists and three steals in 23 minutes off the bench in the Sun's 96-79 victory. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon, right, charges Minnesota Lynx guard Sydney Colson on defense in the second half of Friday night's WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Clarendon finished with 14 points, five assists and three steals in 23 minutes off the bench in the Sun's 96-79 victory. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — It would be understandable if Layshia Clarendon had become frustrated by the ups and downs in her WNBA career, but she instead feels, of all things, empathy.

“I’m realizing that it’s a journey and, along your career, you’re going to play a ton of different roles,” Clarendon said. “I really appreciate the empathy it’s given me for my teammates."

Clarendon, in six seasons, has been traded twice and gone from being a reserve to a starter (and an All-Star) and now back to a reserve this season.

The Connecticut Sun traded for Clarendon in early July and she’s blended in seamlessly with her new teammates. She’s helped put Connecticut in position to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, provided it beats the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday on the final day of the regular season (Mohegan Sun Arena, NBCSB, Twitter, 3 p.m.).

“When I’m in the bench role, I understand that it’s hard to be a starter,” Clarendon said. “Everybody wants to be the starter, but it’s tough night in and night out to play 30-plus minutes.

“I have empathy for the bench players. Sometimes you play 10 minutes and you have to go do cardio after the game and the family is waiting and you have to go shower.”

Clarendon, a point guard, led the University of California to its first Final Four in 2013, earning herself Spokane Region Most Outstanding Player honors. She finished her career as the fourth-leading scorer in Cal history (1,820 points).

The Indiana Fever drafted Clarendon ninth overall (first round) in 2013. She played 88 games in three seasons with the Fever, started 19 games and averaged 17.9 minutes.

Clarendon was traded to the Atlanta Dream in May of 2016 and flourished. She averaged 10.7 points with a league-leading 226 assists last season and earned a spot in the All-Star Game.

Clarendon’s career went sideways this offseason when Atlanta signed Renee Montgomery. She took over as the starting point and Clarendon went back to being a bench player.

Connecticut traded guard Alex Bentley for Clarendon and a 2019 second-round pick on July 9, and she's changed the Sun's dynamics. It's been years since the Sun had a true point guard backing up starter Jasmine Thomas, so Clarendon is a steady hand when Thomas needs a break.

“She’s super tough,” Thomas said. “She’s a great leader. She’s strong with the ball and takes care of it.”

"She's been huge for us," Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. "She's been a really, really pleasant addition. She's really fun to coach."

Clarendon has also allowed Thomas to play off the ball when Miller plays the two together.

“I don’t know if that (playing off-guard) is in my future,” Thomas said with a smile.

Miller said: “Layshia is (always) in attack mode and will be an opportunistic scorer, but she’s a point guard who is going to think about getting other people in actions and the ball first. It’s nice to be able to move Jas off the ball. … It’s been a good combination.”

Clarendon had her best game yet for Connecticut during Friday’s 96-79 win over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. She scored 14 points in 23 minutes off the bench with five assists and three steals.

“It’s less pressure coming off the bench,” Clarendon said. “If the starters start badly, you’re like, ‘all right, I’m a-coming to bring the energy!’ And if they start well, you’re like, ‘great!’

“Playing with a 6-6 post player like JJ (Jonquel Jones) and (Morgan) Tuck who can both shoot it, I’ve never really played with bigs who can shoot the ball like that. So for me, on the pick-and-roll, it’s like (being in) a candy shop. … You can’t stay with me too long on the screen as the hedger because you’ve got to get back to JJ, or you have to rotate.

“(It’s) like playing with a starting lineup with Rachel (Banham), JJ, Tuck and myself coming off the bench. It’s just a really good group to play with. I’m embracing the role here. I think it’s awesome. I can see the value in it. And I really like Jas. I’m always cheering her on and I love playing together.”

The Sun-Sparks winner clinches the fourth seed, a first-round bye and a second-round home game on Aug. 23. Connecticut is 20-13, Los Angeles 19-14

Connecticut, if it lost, would most likely be the sixth seed. It would be fifth if the Phoenix Mercury (19-14) also lost Sunday, but that seems unlikely because they host the New York Liberty (7-26), losers of their last 12 games.

The Sun, should they lose and Phoenix wins, would host a first-round game on Aug. 21 against the Lynx, who are locked into the seventh seed. The first and second rounds are single-elimination.

Connecticut announced Saturday night that starting post Chiney Ogwumike (knee) is questionable for Sunday’s game. Ogwumike didn’t play Friday.

n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon, left, gets a hug from teammate Jasmine Thomas at the end of the Sun's win Friday over the Minnesota Lynx at  Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon, left, gets a hug from teammate Jasmine Thomas at the end of the Sun's win Friday over the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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