• Mt. Juliet’s Clark makes mark in WNBA

    By Andy Reed -

    During the broadcast of Wednesday’s Los Angeles-Seattle WNBA game, Storm broadcasters Dick Fain and Elise Woodard announced Seattle guard Alysha Clark is the 22-year-old league’s all-time two-point field-goal percentage shooter.

    A perusal of the World Wide Web revealed the former Mt. Juliet High great is, indeed, the WNBA’s record holder in that category, hitting .5916 (that’s a smidge under 60 percent) from inside the three-point arc. Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles is second at .5902.

    This was news to Clark during a Wednesday phone conversation from Seattle.

    “I didn’t know that,” Clark said. “That’s really awesome.”

    Clark was named Class AAA Miss Basketball in 2005 as she led the Lady Bears to the state championship. She went on to be named conference player of the year in all four seasons of college – two in the Atlantic Sun for Belmont and two more for Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt. She is believed to be the only collegian, male or female, to win league POYs in two conferences. She led the NCAA in scoring both seasons at MTSU, putting up 48 points for the Lady Raiders in the Sun Belt final her senior season.

    She was the 17th overall pick by the San Antonio Stars in the 2010 WNBA draft. But the 5-11 Clark, who had always played inside, had to reinvent her game as she failed to make the team.

    “I had to learn how to play as a guard,” said Clark, who signed as a free agent with Seattle in 2012 and is in her seventh season in the Great Northwest. “I played as a post all through high school and college. I couldn’t be a forward in the league. I’m too small.”

    But as soon as her senior year in high school, Clark showed signs she could play on the perimeter as she began sinking three-pointers. Longtime Lady Bear assistant coach John Simms said at the time if she were needed at point guard, as athletic as she is, she could be given a crash course and become one in a couple of weeks.

    “They set the foundation for my career,” Clark said of Simms and longtime head coach Chris Fryer. “If they had to stick me in (at the point), they could have in two weeks. I wouldn’t be as good as (2005 PG) Christian Gibson.”

    In 18 games this season, including 17 starts, Clark is averaging eight points and 3.7 rebounds per game on 50.5-percent shooting, which includes 44.7 percent from beyond the arc. But with former UConn-great Breanna Stewart averaging 22 points per game and two others also averaging double digits, Clark has become the Storm’s defensive stopper as Seattle has built a WNBA-best 15-6 record.

    She can defend bigs or smalls. She can also post up smaller guards or drive against bigger forwards.

    “It’s prolonged my career, being able to play inside or go outside,” said Clark, who calls her long-ago point guard Gibson her best friend. She said she also maintains contact with former teammates, including KC Van Atta, Paige McFarlin, Sarah Muniz and Holly Hudson.

    Clark recently bought a house in the Old Hickory area where her family still lives. But her trips home are limited between the WNBA’s summer season, playing overseas during the winter, during which she takes a week-long break during the holidays.

    “The majority of us go overseas in the winter months,” said Clark, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel. “Some go after Christmas to rest their bodies. It’s a constant grind on the bodies.”

    After playing several seasons since 2010 in Israel, Clark has played a year in Turkey and was in Poland last winter. She will play in Lyon, France, this coming winter for a team owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker, a French citizen. It’s a resume she never thought she would build while walking the halls of the former MJHS (now Mt. Juliet Middle) and making road trips by van to Lebanon, Wilson Central, LaVergne, Gallatin, etc.

    “Basketball has been such a blessing to allow me to see the world,” Clark said. “It’s been so much fun.”

    Even the language barrier hasn’t been much of an issue.

    “In Israel, it was easy. Everyone spoke English,” she said. “Turkey, everyone spoke English.

    “Poland, most people speak English. For the most part, everyone I’ve bee in contact with speaks English or knows about it.”

    Having turned 31 last week, Clark is likely closer to the end of her playing career than the beginning. She’s shown an interest in cooking. Her mother, Jan, has worked in the restaurant business for years. Her father, Kenneth Sr., also knows his way around a kitchen. Is becoming a chef in her future?

    “Growing up, they were always in the kitchen cooking,” Clark said. “I would love it. I don’t know to what extent. That’s what I’m trying to figure out now.

    “But something cooking… The challenge of making good food… It brings people together. It’s definitely something I take pride in.”

    Bringing people together is something Clark has a natural knack for. Fryer once told a story of when he and legendary Clarkrange coach Lamar Rogers were coaching an all-star team which included Clark. Rogers was ready to leave when Fryer told him to watch Clark, who was then in the process of getting her brand-new (and temporary) teammates bonded.

    “I’ve moved so much in my life, I know what it’s like to feel left out,” said Clark, who was born in Denver, Colo., and moved with her family from Kansas to Mt. Juliet in time for her sophomore year. “Anytime I have a chance to make people feel normal, I want to. I guess that’s one of my gifts from God is to make you feel welcome.”

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