SEATTLE — There was a line waiting for Alysha Clark as the Mystics finished their shoot-around Thursday morning at Climate Pledge Arena. The Seattle Storm walked onto the court for its session, and many Storm players — Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, among others — made a beeline to hug their former teammate.
Clark was a key part of a Seattle team that won a pair of WNBA titles, and Thursday marked her first time in the arena wearing a visitor’s jersey after she signed with the Mystics before the 2021 season. The last time she played for Seattle was the title-clinching Game 3 against the Las Vegas Aces in 2020, a season when she was a unanimous selection to the WNBA’s all-defensive first team.
“I don’t overthink it too much because it takes you out of the moment,” the forward said. “I’m here to play a basketball game. I’m here to win a basketball game. Everything outside of that is just … is what it is. These are friends for life. You come across that in any stage in anything that you do.
“I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t overthought.”
Clark had dinner Wednesday night with Loyd and Mercedes Russell. The post-shoot-around scene looked like a class reunion with everyone wanting to catch up. A warm welcome from the Seattle crowd was expected Thursday night.
A second-round pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2010, Clark did not establish herself as a WNBA player until she made the Storm’s roster in 2012. The city is where she transitioned from leading the nation in scoring as a post player at Middle Tennessee to a three-point shooting wing and where she developed into one of the best defenders in the league. It’s also where she learned to be a vocal leader.
“She’s the type of player that I have so much respect for because of her evolution,” Bird said. “And I really feel like I had a front-row seat to that, and I saw all of her hard work, and it really paid off.
“Not many people make that adjustment. Watching it firsthand was really special.”
Her former teammates still rave about her work ethic.
“Just an amazing time with her, sharing the court with her,” Stewart said. “Obviously happy she’s back doing well in D.C., but we miss her.
“The thing is with AC is she never stopped working and she used her motivation of, like, making it to the league and just never stopping. She had a very unique path to the WNBA and to where she is, to the role that she has. And that’s all a credit to her hard work.”
Not long after signing with the Mystics, Clark suffered a Lisfranc injury that cost her the entire 2021 season. It turned into just another obstacle for Clark to overcome. Clark says she’s feeling better and better, and Coach Mike Thibault said they’re close to eliminating her minutes restrictions.
Her comfort with the injury and her new teammates is evident in her scoring — she has reached double figures in four of her past seven games after reaching that plateau just once in her first five games. She’s averaging 8.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Clark’s three-point shot is still improving; she is shooting just 31 percent from deep, her lowest since 2014, but her 65.1 percent on two-point attempts is the highest since 2015.
“You’re seeing her have her legs under her a little bit more,” Thibault said. “More aggressive. In general, I’d say every week she feels better.
“She’s such a student of the league. She can tell you pretty much what every player in the league does. … She has both the big picture and small picture in her brain about, ‘This is what a team’s trying to do and here’s how you can take away some individual things from people.’ It’s breaking down the game to a little bit of a different level.”
All of that started in Seattle, and Clark credits the Storm veterans for laying out the path. She learned how to be a pro, what it takes to win a championship and how to carve out role for herself. Clark isn’t concerned with putting on a show in front of old friends and fans, but she would like to put the lessons learned in the Pacific Northwest to good use.
“If I didn’t start here, I don’t think the journey would have been the same,” Clark said. “For that I’m forever grateful.
“There’s too many life lessons to list all that I’ve learned from here. Seattle was a huge part of who I am as a person, who I am as a player. That’s why it’ll always feel like home to me.”