Remembering The Seniors: Layshia Clarendon

Layshia as she should be remembered: Rising, firing, hitting a shot. - USA TODAY Sports

We start our look back at the departing class of women's basketballers with the current Indiana Fever draft pick.

This was hard to write. When I first attempted to collect my thoughts on Layshia Clarendon, I feared that I had already written everything I could possibly have to say about her as a player. But then I started and wrote 600 words in about a half hour. As it turns out, I was having the opposite problems: How do you succinctly distill the impact Layshia Clarendon had on Cal basketball? She started 133 games of a possible 142, played 4,522 minutes and scored 1,820 points. That's . . . a lot of big numbers.

Layshia Clarendon will be remembered for many things, most of which will have to do with what she accomplished as a senior. But it's been a long journey since Layshia arrived on campus in 2009 as the 67th ranked prospect according to ESPN, which if I remember correctly, placed her as the 6th highest rated of Cal's 7 recruits.

Layshia was immediately a valuable player and quickly jumped into the starting lineup, but the first two years were something of a struggle for her as she was frequently asked to play out of position as a point guard. Much of her freshman year was spent deferring to Alexis Gray-Lawson, and she spent even more time at point as a sophomore.

And then Brittany Boyd stepped in at point guard, Layshia was able to stay at her natural position, and everything fell into place. But saying that Layshia's success as a junior and senior relates to her full time switch to shooting guard undersells her consistent improvement as a scorer over her four year career.

Perhaps the simplest way to illustrate her growth as a player is with two simple stats:

Year

Shots attempted per game

eFG%

Freshman

9.6

40.0

Sophomore

12.0

43.7

Junior

11.5

45.8

Senior

13.5

49.4

Every year her shooting got better despite generally having to carry a bigger offensive burden as time went by. And the way she went about getting her points is what makes her so unique.

The mid-range jumper is a dying art, and for good reason. It's an inefficient shot. Why is it inefficient? Because shots closer to the basket go in more frequently, and shots further away are worth more points. Even worse, mid-range shots rarely result in fouls. Lay-ups are low-risk, 3 pointers are high reward. Two point jumpers are neither.

In a weird way, I almost wonder if Layshia unintentionally managed to exploit an inefficiency in the game. If nobody is shooting mid-range jumpers any more, perhaps defenses aren't spending a ton of time preparing to stop teams from getting that shot off? In any case, in the face of conventional wisdom arguing against her, Layshia made the mid-range jumper the cornerstone of her offensive game and thrived.

As a junior, and early in the year as a senior, I think she took advantage of the attention most teams gave to Cal's post players to find open looks. But by the 2nd half of the season word was out: Layshia has been punishing everybody, and you have to stop her if you want to stop the Bears. Suddenly teams were designing defenses to stop her, trying desperately to funnel her drives away from the key where she loved to pull up and sink a jumper.

And she still kept scoring. Her entire game was built around the most inefficient shot in basketball, and elite defenses in the Pac-12 and the NCAA tournament were planning specifically to stop her, and she was still scoring. It was that late season display that likely propelled Layshia all the way to the first round of the WNBA draft.

There are so many individual moments and games that represent the type of player she was for the Bears. Her 29 point outburst against UC Davis in the WNIT when Alexis Gray-Lawson was out injured gave us a glimpse of what she would do later in her career.

But it was her performance down the stretch of her senior season that she will be most remembered for. Layshia carried Cal to a Pac-12 title by scoring nearly half of Cal's points in a 2 point thriller over Oregon State. She dominated the second half and finished with 27 points against South Florida despite facing a defense specifically designed to slow her down. Her baskets against Georgia kept Cal afloat when nobody else was scoring, and then she hit the big shots in OT. Without Layshia, at least two of Cal's four NCAA tournament wins don't happen.

Of course, we've only discussed Layshia's on-court exploits. I haven't mentioned her achievements as a student, her volunteer work, or that she has had zero interest in self-promotion. Between her quiet style of play and subdued leadership, it was easy for her to fly under the radar nationally, or really even on the west coast. When you're surrounded by exciting, exceptional players like Gennifer Brandon and Brittany Boyd, it can be easy to avoid the spotlight. And that's part of the reason the ‘Layshia Facts' campaign was so much fun - because Cal fans worked to make sure a deserving player received the recognition she refused to demand for herself.

If Layshia has made one concession to personal expression it's her Mohawk, which became something of a calling card during her scoring explosion during March Madness, and to a certain extent a symbol of Cal basketball. We're fun, we're loose, we're different - but we're still very, very serious about beating you on the basketball court.

Us fans will remember the on-court exploits, but it's the impact she and her fellow seniors have had on the personality of the program that could be the longest lasting.

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