October 25, 2022 

Layshia Clarendon discusses joining 2023 Athletes Unlimited roster

'I just wanted the opportunity to continue to play'

In Layshia Clarendon‘s time away from basketball since being waived by the Minnesota Lynx prior to the start of the 2022 regular season, the nine-year pro made sure they were still being seen.

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Clarendon, who uses he/him, she/her and they/them pronouns interchangeably, was out and about at events and panels, which included promoting the Amazon Prime Television Show A League of their Own, walking the red carpet at the ESPYS and celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Without being attached to a WNBA franchise during this past summer and fall, they could also focus on jumpstarting their new foundation, an organization that aims to support trans people and their access to health care.

But behind closed doors and not on a stage or on a red carpet, he was missing the game. What was the most prominent indicator of this? He would walk through his house and do physical movements. There was a void left by not being able to recreate the competitive and gritty parts of basketball during his daily life at home with his wife and child. Back in July at an event celebrating 50 years of Title IX, Clarendon told Maria Marino that they wanted “get back out there and throw some more punches.”

This was a sentiment that was not only figurative but literal.

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“I’m not really gonna just go up and you know, bump my wife down the hallway, but there really is that level of competitiveness and the physical parts of our sport,” she told The Next. “And I play really physical, especially for my size and position. I’m looking forward to that part of being back on the court. Throwing those punches if you will.”


That longing for the game came after she pondered leaving the game permanently. This is a question that many WNBA players face when they are waived out of a job as there’s a pressure to continue to stay relevant and not slip out of the league for good. And for Clarendon, playing overseas was never going to be an option. He will take that physicality and desire to exert their boundless energy and grit to a new juncture before eyeing a return to the WNBA in the spring of 2023. They’ll headline the second season of Athletes Unlimited (AU), the player run basketball league that will have not only a new home in Dallas at Park Coliseum but will have a new start date. The second season begins on February 22 and will run through March 26, just days before the NCAA Final Four kicks off also in Dallas on March 31.

“Once I realized I wasn’t quitting basketball [they laughed], I just wanted the opportunity to continue to play and love a lot of the fun stuff that they’re doing,” Clarendon said about their decision to sign onto AU season two. While she technically will be a first-year player, participating in AU had always been in the cards for Clarendon. She was in discussions with AU’s director of Sport Ilene Hauser last year about being a part of the inaugural group, but what kept Clarendon out of the league was their stress fracture injury that they sustained toward the end of the 2021 W season. He wasn’t quite ready yet to put his right fibula through three games a week.

But now after a period of rest and recovery following their stint in 2022 Lynx training camp, Clarendon is ready to enjoy every moment of their time on the floor this coming February. But there might be some growing pains, something Clarendon welcomes. AU’s format poses different challenges compared to a season in the W. While the league’s objectives and philosophies align with the very essence that is Clarendon––player empowerment and a focus on philanthropy––there will be some facets of AU that will be brand new and an adjustment.

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As a pass-first point guard who functions on the floor selflessly, she’s going to need to consider the point system that differentiates AU from all other pro leagues in the world. While Clarendon understands that she’ll have to “stat hunt,” she explained her approach to AU’s point system will include a great focus on balancing their individual footprint on games along with making sure their team is in the best position to come out on top.

But also, a challenge that they welcome has to do with team chemistry during the season, or rather the lack thereof. Remember, AU switches teams each week, which limits the ways in which basketball players usually attain team chemistry. For Clarendon, they believe that establishing chemistry “is everything.”

“So it’s really wild to me that the team gets drafted every week,” they said. “And it really fascinates me in terms of like team chemistry and human behavior and working together.”

So how will this work? How will any chemistry form with constant shuffling? Clarendon will have to rely upon their natural instincts as a leader, something that’s been one of his calling cards ever since he came on the scene while at Cal. He is used to speaking in huddles and communicating about play calling but, something that also fascinates him in addition to the shuffling of teams is how in a player led and player coached league do teams approach subbing. He asked: “How do people sub themselves in you know, you never want to come out of the game or do people just do it when they’re tired?”

At 31, Clarendon is ready to continue learn and grow through the game of basketball. AU allows them an opportunity to not only proceed to lead but to flex some news muscles such as autonomous play calling and drafting. Could she one day be a GM? AU will give Clarendon a taste.

But as a veteran who has played the game professionally for nearly a decade, Clarendon is approaching AU with a level of swagger and confidence that hasn’t always been visibly present. During their time away from the game, they’ve watched highlights of their game and are confident in how skilled they are.

They are fast. They beat people. They play with pizzazz.

“I don’t think of myself as the fastest player but I like watch highlights and I’m like, holy shit, like I’m beating everybody down the court,” he said.

Sure, there’s humility in the way she talks about herself and her game, but there’s also a certainty and confidence in their strengths. “I’m pretty prolific at getting in the paint and making really good decisions. And I think what I did really well during my [2021] Minnesota season was taking shots when I was open, scoring when I’m open and hunting those shots. So continuing to improve on that, and I think reminding people that I can put the ball in the basket but I have that level of skill set.”

Who does Clarendon mean when they say “reminding people“? WNBA GMs, of course.

“I’m trying to get a contract, so for sure.”

Clarendon won’t be alone. The current list of AU season two basketball players can be found here.

Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

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