Summers ago, Layshia Clarendon looked around the room at the young eyes staring back. A silence drifted over the scene as the girls of the Swift and West Coast Premier travel ball team gazed admiringly back at their star alum.
A young girl had just asked a simple question about her awards, but Layshia was at a loss for words. Layshia scanned the room uncomfortably, her eyes finally falling on the rock in her life, her father, Curtis Clarendon.
Layshia beckoned for her father to share the stage with her. She couldn’t and she wouldn’t. Her character dictated that she should not brag, she should not boast. She needed her dad to tell the players, otherwise her conscience wouldn’t forgive her.
“She is the most humble person I have ever known,” Curtis says.
Layshia is one of the most decorated athletes to pass through the doors of Haas Pavilion. Her Letterman jacket has 42 patches, two of which honor her state CIF championships. She is a candidate for the prestigious Senior Class Award and ranks 11th on the Cal all-time scoring list.
But one mention of her numerous accolades, and Layshia will play the topic down just as quickly as it was brought up.
For a player with so much going for her, Layshia’s humility shines brightest. It was put to a test at the 2009 U19 FIBA Women’s World Championship in Thailand.
On any given day in her high school career in San Bernardino, Calif., Layshia had the chance to put up 50 points, but she still remained a pass-first, shoot-second-type player.
“I would always tell her if she scored 20 that she should have scored 22,” Curtis says. “I used to make her shoot 500 shots a day.”
Despite her unselfish play, Layshia was still leading her teams to team CIF titles and victories in top-level tournaments in Los Angeles.
Colleges took notice of her high school play. And so too did Team USA.
During the summer after her senior year and commitment to Cal, Layshia received an invite to the Team USA tryout for the upcoming U19 FIBA World Championship.
But Layshia wanted to start her life as a college kid at Berkeley, bond with her new teammates and attend Summer Bridge. While many kids would have jumped at the chance to play for Team USA, Layshia was not looking for glory or recognition.
Layshia didn’t know what to do, but her dad did.
“My dad was trying to let me make the decision on my own until one night he sat me down and told me I needed to go,” Layshia says.
Thirty athletes arrived at the USA practice facility in Colorado Springs in May of 2009, all decorated candidates.
When the grueling tryouts concluded, Layshia sat in the gym as the team of 12 was announced, hoping her name would be called.
Finally, as “Clarendon” echoed through the gym, a wave of emotions flooded over Layshia.
“It was a redemption moment,” Layshia says “I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American. I had that as my goal, but I found out that I wasn’t one, so I thought ‘ouch’.
“But I would rather play for the USA over McDonalds any day.”
The girl from San Bernardino was neither flashy nor as decorated as some of the other players who had been left off the roster. But it was her versatility as a pass-first combo guard and her team-first dedication that separated her from the rest.
And after two weeks of camp training, Layshia and Team USA left for Thailand to the World Championships.
From the moment the plane hit the tarmac in Bangkok, Layshia began to feel the weight of the letters USA printed on her clothes.
“They had to get us to the bus because people were swarming,” Layshia says. “People either loved us or hated us, representing the USA. Kids wanted our socks, our jerseys, our shoes, anything.”
Yet despite the adoring fans and newfound fame in Bangkok, Layshia didn’t let it go to her head.
The team took the court against Spain to begin the tournament. The United States won, but Layshia only played nine minutes. In the next game against China, she played eight minutes.
From high school star to bench player, Layshia experienced a complete 180-degree turn in her basketball hierarchy.
“It was different for me not always being the star,” Layshia says. “I became that player that came in to sub out that other person at the end of the game.”
Even in depleted minutes, Layshia elected to stay out of the limelight, shooting very rarely.
USA steamrolled to the championship game against Spain with a 7-1 record and a 26.4-point average margin of victory. In the gold medal match, Layshia played seven minutes, her smallest number of the tournament.
On the stat sheet, Layshia recorded a missed free, a 3-pointer, one assist, one turnover and one steal.
The U.S. still won 87-71 without major contributions of Layshia. But anyone there that day in Bangkok witnessed Layshia at her finest. As the gold medal was placed around her neck, Layshia’s smile reached from ear to ear.
She didn’t care she had averaged 4.5 points per game in the tournament instead of her high school average of 30.
“(The FIBA Championship) taught me a lot about leadership,” Layshia says. “I tell people at Cal its all about the team, having been the one that’s not always the star. It was a humbling experience.”
In her four years at Cal, Layshia has been waiting for the program to break through. A player with star caliber talent, Layshia has always put the team before herself.
“I have sat on a team behind Skylar Diggins, behind Samantha Prahalis, I’ve been the sub,” Layshia says. “Regardless if you played zero minutes or 40 minutes, we are all in for the same goal.”
Now, as a senior at Cal, Layshia is looking to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament with a championship in sight. It’s been the goal she has chased through her Cal career.
March Madness puts countless stars on center stage, but Layshia Clarendon will never spend too long in the spotlight.
Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].