Unless you’ve followed women’s college basketball very closely over the past decade, you may not know that Alysha Clark holds a very distinguished place in the NCAA record books.
Clark, now a fifth-year forward with the Seattle Storm, is the first NCAA basketball player, men’s or women’s, to earn player of the year accolades in two conferences.
Now get this: She not only was named POY in both the Sun Belt and Atlantic Sun conferences, but she holds the honor twice in each.
After leading all NCAA Division-I players in scoring in 2009 and 2010, Clark was drafted in the second round by the San Antonio Stars in 2010 but was waived in training camp, and then again a year later after being given another chance.
In 2012, Clark made the Storm’s final roster as a 25-year-old rookie, but was dealing with confidence issues at that point. Thankfully, Seattle’s veterans had her back.
Tina Thompson, nearing the end of her Hall of Fame career, made it clear that she thought Clark belonged among the best in the WNBA.
“Once she showed the confidence that she had in me, I was like, If she can believe in me, and this is one of the best players ever in the history of the game, then why can’t I believe in myself?” Clark says.
Relying on the work ethic and IQ that defined her as a player, Clark was able to remake her career as a highly efficient shooter and lock-down defender.
And in a way, her role has come full circle, as she’s now one of the leaders in the Storm locker room, guiding Seattle’s young and talented roster to a potential 2016 playoff birth. Clark also is an excellent cook, making her a popular teammate both on and off the court.
SLAM caught up with Clark in New York before the Storm took on the Liberty.
SLAM: When did you really start to focus on basketball?
Alysha Clark: When we moved to Tennessee my sophomore year in high school is probably the first time I’ve experienced basketball in the manner that it is in middle Tennessee. And that’s really when I started focusing on playing that. Because in high school, we joked around and called Mt. Juliet University because the schedule we have in that program and the demand for it, it was hard to do other sports. So I just just had to choose, and I just chose basketball. So my sophomore year is when I started getting serious about it.
SLAM: And you ended up getting a serious hip injury in high school, right?
AC: Yeah. My junior year, I cracked my acetabulum. I fractured it. It was in January, so right before playoffs started.
SLAM: How did that affect your college recruitment?
AC: Honestly, the big name schools weren’t recruiting me highly anyway just because I was new to the area, and I was still kind of new to basketball. So I honestly wasn’t that great in high school. And so when that happened, that hurt a little bit. But there were some schools—because it was my junior year, so it was still far out. But obviously the concern because it was the Bo Jackson injury that ended his career. So people had that concern. But it didn’t deter Belmont. That’s the school I went to first. They were there through it all and really stuck by me.
SLAM: Was it difficult to find your role once you made it to the WNBA?
AC: I’m going to be completely honest, it was really hard because as a player, you have an identity, and growing up, you’ve been playing for a long time. In high school and college, you kind of create your identity. Once you get to the league, if you’re not an elite, rare-type player, your role is going to change regardless of who you are, where you went to school. So for me, it was hard transition tough because at times, I felt like I didn’t belong, or I wasn’t good enough. Sometimes I felt like a scrub because you do have people on the outside looking solely at box scores, like, “You averaged this in college, and now you can’t even score.” And you try to block all that out. But at some point, it messes with you.
And so I kind of had to do a reality check. You’ll hear players go, “Role players are important.” And I was that person in college, like, “Your role is important. What you do does matter.” But until you’re in that position yourself, you don’t really know how hard it is. Once I did that kind of self-check the first two years when I got cut, and even my first year in Seattle, I was like, You got to figure out what you can do that’s going to make a positive impact that still speaks to who you are as a person and a player. So for me, once I found out my work ethic is why I got here, my IQ is why I got here. Aside from the skill stuff. But that skill stuff I have to improve on. Once I understood that, every year, things just got a lot easier. And now I understand what my role is. The outside noise doesn’t bother me anymore because I’m solid in what my role is and I know what my job is, and it’s good when you can finally get to that place.
SLAM: Who helped keep up your confidence during those difficult times?
AC: Oh man, my rookie year in Seattle, I was on a team with probably the most amazing veterans you could ever put on one team with Tanisha Wright, Tina Thompson, Katie Smith. That was the year with Lauren [Jackson] and Sue [Bird] being there. Tina made me see things from a different perspective. She was one of my big sister mentors that kind of just sat me down and was like, “Listen, you’re here for a reason. You’re good enough to be here, so now you need to start acting like it.” She put me in my place in a good way, like, “You’re here, so stop looking at it as any other way.” Once she showed the confidence that she had in me, I was like, If she can believe in me, and this is one of the best players ever in the history of the game, then why can’t I believe in myself? Without my veterans that I had on my team that year, I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have made it, but Tina and Katie were the two that I talked to on a regular, and helped me build confidence in myself and helped me establish and find my way.
SLAM: Have you noticed any similarities between the Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird duo and the Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd duo?
AC: I think the love for the game, and the will to want to be great. Obviously, they’re all very different players. They’re in a similar position, but completely different players. I think Jewell and Stewie know, when the torch is passed, what is expected. And they both want to be the best at what they do. They want to be the second-best duo because right now Sue and Lauren are the best duo out of Seattle. They know, and they want to be great, and they work every day to make sure that they are. Just that drive to want to be the best is something that’s blatantly obvious.
SLAM: With the team being in the thick of the playoff race, how is the team approaching the end of the regular season?
AC: I think Jenny [Boucek] has done a good job of making everyone aware of the situation that we’re in. Because let’s be real, we can’t say we’re not going to look to the playoffs, we’re just going to focus. At the end of the day, you have to be aware of what’s going on. So she’s done a really good of saying, “OK, here’s the situation. This is what we need to take care of.” We do take it one game at a time because these last five games are playoff games for us. We understand the importance of them, and I think that’s helped with the mentality of preparing for these games. When you play all year round for so many years, things can just become routine. I think that’s one thing I’ve learned about this season—it’s made every game important. It’s made the competitiveness of every game that much more exciting. The young players are starting to see what it takes to make the playoffs, the mentality that you have to have, the toughness that you have to have just on a consistent basis. We know the end result of where we’re trying to get, but we also take it one game at a time because we can’t get to tomorrow’s game without finishing today’s game. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves but we want to keep it right there at the forefront so it helps our drive and our preparation for these games.
SLAM: When did you start getting into cooking and what were your early influences?
AC: I always loved being in the kitchen with my dad growing up when my parents would cook. And so that kind of started at a young age. My parents have four children, so eating out wasn’t an option. It’s way too expensive. So they were always cooking. My dad would always throw something together with whatever we had in the kitchen. And so that’s how my influence into cooking got started. As I started getting older in high school, he would always call me into the kitchen like, “Come here, let me show you how to make this because when you leave for college, I’m not going to be able to cook for you.” So I’d be in the kitchen with him, and he’d show me how to make stuff. Lasagna from scratch with stuff that may not be in your traditional lasagna, but it’s what we had in the kitchen. So we made it work [laughs].
SLAM: And you’ve invited all your teammates to eat at your place at any time, right?
AC: Yeah, I do. I give an open invite at training camp because I’m not going to think to invite everybody on a regular basis. I’m a very forgetful person [laughs]. I like to do it when it’s fresh on my mind. I was trying out a new recipe, and I had a bunch of my teammates over to try it for me and let me know what they thought. Food is like sports and music: It can bring people together. In that point in time when you guys are all together, you don’t think about anything else. You’re just conversing, having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. I think that’s a really easy way to bond over food because everybody loves food, everybody loves good food. And just being in a relaxed setting and being able to be yourself. We like to play games, card games or whatever. And sometimes Jenna [O’Hea] will come over and we’ll cook together and try different recipes. I taught her how to make mac and cheese. Being from Australia, that’s not one of one of their strong suits [laughs]. It’s been fun. It helps build a bonding relationship over a common ground.
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