Sun point guards Thomas, Clarendon are members of a mutual admiration society
Mohegan — There might be a moment this season when Layshia Clarendon will be watching from Connecticut Sun bench and get a visit from her ego.
Clarendon plays point guard and is good at her job. She helped California reach its first Final Four in 2013. She’s been a WNBA All-Star. She played last September for USA Basketball when it won its third straight gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, earning it an automatic berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Clarendon is an athlete and athletes want to play. She started two seasons for the Atlanta Dream before being usurped last year by Renee Montgomery. She was traded midseason to Connecticut and remained a reserve.
Should Clarendon’s ego start needling her, however, she can shut it down by simply looking out on the floor at Jasmine Thomas, the player who starts ahead of her, and the person Clarendon likes and admires.
“I definitely think when the ego comes out, ‘Oh, I wish I was starting,’” Clarendon said. “You see it’s Jas and think, ‘But I love her. She’s great.’”
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Connecticut opens its 17th regular season at home on Saturday night against the Washington Mystics (Mohegan Sun Arena, 7:30). It has accumulated young talent via the draft over the years. Head coach and general manager Curt Miller believed when he took over four years ago that the team would be ready to contend for that elusive WNBA title right about now.
The Sun, though, still lack the all-time great player (or players) that every WNBA champion has needed to win a title. Those players are generally a former No. 1 pick. Connecticut had a former No. 1 in Chiney Ogwumike, but she forced her way out in a trade to the Los Angeles Sparks last month.
The Sun have all-star players in Jonquel Jones, Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas and Clarendon. Washington, by comparison, has a superstar in 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history (Kristi Toliver), and plenty of talent around them. A national panel of reporters picked the Mystics first in AP's preseason poll. The Sun were fifth.
Delle Donne did not make the trip to Connecticut for Saturday's game due to knee soreness.
The Sun don't have a roster like the Las Vegas Aces, which became favored to win the 2019 title in the WNBA.com GM poll the moment they acquired the dominant center Liz Cambage in a trade last week. No GM picked Connecticut.
The Sun don't have a roster like the Phoenix Mercury, the majority pick among ESPN’s panel of experts. Phoenix has two former No. 1 picks (and Olympians) in Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, the latter who will miss several weeks after back surgery.
The Sun don't have a roster like Los Angeles, blessed with three former No. 1 picks — two-time MVP Candace Parker and Chiney and Nneka Oguwmike, the latter which was the 2016 MVP.
Connecticut needs all hands on deck to succeed. It needs its two all-star point guards to do that. Clarendon and Thomas know how beneficial the other is to the Sun, and they’re happy together.
“From experience and all the things that (Clarendon) has done in her career, she's just a great asset to have on a team,” Thomas said.
Clarendon said, “Really good teams have players who can start coming off their bench. … I want to win. I’m willing to play whatever role we need. I’m always going to compete for a bigger role, but I want to win.”
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Clarendon was traded to Connecticut on July 9, 2018, after the Sun were 19 games into their 34-game schedule. She’d gotten to know Jasmine Thomas casually through a mutual friend, Krystal Thomas.
“We connected really quickly,” Clarendon said. “Jas was really sweet and, like, ‘Let me know whatever you need, however we can help.”
Thomas said of Clarendon, “She’s not just a good player, she’s also a good person. She’s involved in a lot of things off the court that serve as a good role model for everyone. She’s a great leader and I think she brings so much to our team. That makes her valuable.”
Clarendon believes their personalties are similar. Clarendon likes to cook. Thomas likes to bake. They both have an affinity for red wine, too.
“It’s like we're those old, classy people,” Clarendon joked.
“I think we’ve experienced things in our life, things in this league where we’re kind of the calm for the team,” Thomas said about her and Clarendon.
“We’ve talked about seeing more things together (this season), exploring Connecticut a little bit more, finding little coffee shops. We both like to read as well. She texted me (during the offseason) when I was still overseas about a book. She was like, ‘You should get this. It’s good. We could do a book club this summer.’
“We do have a lot of things in common.”
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Connecticut doesn’t have Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray or Courtney Vandersloot, point guards who have earned either All-WNBA first or second team honors.
They arguably, however, have the league’s best point guard tandem.
“I’m starting my fifth year in the league, and there’s been so many franchises that are struggling to find that backup point guard,” Miller said. “When you have two point guards on your roster who, at one point, have been all-stars and are both in the prime of their careers, it’s a great luxury.
“Jas is lightning quick. Layshia keeps players on her hip and is so strong. … Both of them are caring people. They generally care for people and they want what’s best for their teammates.”
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Thomas knows what Clarendon is going through. Thomas was drafted in 2011 by the Seattle Storm and traded to Washington before the season began. She played two seasons for the Mystics, then was traded to Atlanta where she played for two seasons, and then traded to Connecticut during the 2015 draft for Brittany Hrynko, which the Sun had taken in the second round.
The deal was a steal for the Sun. Thomas has flourished with them and became, along with Alyssa Thomas, one of its leaders.
Jasmine Thomas had never been a full-time starter before coming to Connecticut.
“I just controlled what I could control — my attitude, my energy and my competitiveness in practice, and not in a way that was disrespectful,” Thomas said about her time in Atlanta and Washington. “What can I do to just be ready for when or if those minutes were to increase?
“It’s hard, especially when you come to a team with a core that’s been established and has a good rhythm and a good chemistry going. … There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play a lot of minutes. I hope everyone on every team wants to play a lot of minutes because we're competitive.”
Clarendon will be a free agent after this season and, understandably, is non-committal about whether she’ll re-sign with Connecticut.
Clarendon is cool with backing up Thomas, though.
“You don’t always love all your teammates because there’s a lot of personalities,” Clarendon said. “You don’t always mesh with the people you work with. That’s just the reality of any job.
“I love Jas. She’s sweet and you want to hug her. My wife (Jessica Dolan) is obsessed with us now. She sends us pictures. ‘Oh, my God, you guys are adorable.’ You can see the genuine connection that has been formed, the mutual respect.
“We know that there could be something special (here). Although we’re competing against each other (at practice), we know that ultimately, we’re not the competition.”
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