LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Aces forward Alysha Clark walked into Media Day last month and became an instant hit with everyone in the room.
Perhaps it was because of the radiant personality that accompanied her infectious smile. Maybe it was the fact she emanates 11 years of professionalism with every turn she makes.
Then again, Clark’s adorable 12-year-old chihuahua, Sly, who’s been to more Media Days than most of her younger teammates, was just as poised as Clark and eventually stole the show.
Nine games into the season, she’s been just as big of a hit in her first season as a member of the Aces, be it on the court or off of it, bringing the type of leadership a team needs one year after winning a WNBA championship.
“I’m very appreciative of her,” said reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson, who led all scorers with 21 points in Sunday’s 90-83 win over the Chicago Sky. “Just her vocal or her leadership that she also shows in our locker room is great to have.”
Clark, who has started in 73.6% of her 311 regular-season career appearances, came off the bench to score just four points in 21:30 on Sunday.
Numbers aside, though, her role flows beyond the stat sheet when discussing the impact she’s having on the defending champs, which says something considering she hasn’t started one game for Las Vegas. The last time she came off the bench in the regular season was May 31, 2019, when she scored 11 points in a little more than 27 minutes for Seattle. Before that, you’d have to go back to June 3, 2016.
In fact, the last time she was a reserve on the regular was the final 10 games of the 2014 season.
But Clark is just fine with her new role this season.
“Part of me existing in this league as long as I have is just being adaptable,” said Clark, who will be 36 in July. “It’s been fun. Yeah, it’s a different look, but at the same time it’s what I’m used to, regardless if I’m in the first five or coming off the bench, I just want to make sure I make an impact when I’m out there.”
“It’s just a new venture. I’m looking forward to conquering this year.”
A venture that has been enjoyable because she’s been able to do it with a group that she says has been supportive and encouraging while staying as competitive as she has been for 10-plus seasons, to remain atop the WNBA.
It’s her quality minutes as a 3-and-D player that had her coming into Sunday averaging 7.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, while also hitting .464 from 3-point range.
“I said this earlier, but AC’s played with superstars her whole career, and that in itself is a skill set, how to have an imprint on the game without your number being called all the time,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “And she’s somebody who really has helped us win a lot of games on things that never show up in a stat sheet.”
Like Sunday, during a Chicago possession when the Sky had 14 seconds left on the shot clock in the second quarter, and Clark denied an inbounds pass to Marina Mabrey, which instead led to a steal by teammate Candace Parker.
Or in the fourth quarter when Chicago’s Kahleah Copper was driving to the basket and Clark’s mere presence forced a double-dribble.
No credit on the stat sheet, but both certainly deserving of all the credit for what took place.
“That’s the key – she’s a professional through and through,” Wilson said.
And no matter who’s on the floor with her, prior to someone taking a free throw, she’s the one huddling her teammates together and getting everyone on the same page.
In the team’s second game of the season, in Los Angeles, when the team was struggling defensively and looked frazzled, Clark brought calm to the floor and kept the Aces focused.
“Because she absolutely knows what her job is, what her role is, top down,” Hammon added. “She’s a special teammate for sure, her personhood, who she is as a person. It kind of spills over into every area. So when she’s out on the court, you feel her. She was brought here with a purpose and a certain skill set that we loved and valued. So yeah she’s been huge for us.”
Her new role certainly has her in the early banter for the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year as the teams approach the quarter pole of the season, not that she’ll have anything to do with the conversation.
“I don’t think about those types of things … if you start focusing on that type of thing you lose sight of what you have to offer in this league,” Clark said. “For me, I’ve earned every minute that I’ve gotten in this league and so just focusing on those things, what I can bring night in and night out. And if things come from that, great. And if not, great. Because I’m still staying true to who I am as a person, as a player, and just still enjoying being that way.
“At the end of the day, I know my worth in this league and that’s something that I can hang my hat on.”
W.G. Ramirez is a 36-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a staff writer for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez