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For Sabrina Ionescu and Layshia Clarendon, a mix of disappointment and resilience

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Seattle Storm v New York Liberty Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty’s season is over and it was more than a disappointment. The team finished 2-20 on a shortened WNBA schedule. Moreover, Sabrina Ionescu, the league’s most intriguing rookie in years, went down in Game 3 with a severely sprained ankle. And of course, the Liberty’s debut at Barclays Center was pushed back till 2021.

There were a few positives. Ionescu showed she can play. In the game before she got hurt, she exploded for 33 points ... in her second WNBA game. Jaz Jones, one of seven rookies on the 12-woman roster, was named to the All-Rookie team and a number of the other first-year players showed sparks. Layshia Clarendon, signed to be Ionescu’s back-up and mentor, became of the league leaders in addressing social justice concerns.

Ionescu and Clarendon were interviewed recently for stories published Wednesday, Ionescu by the Times, Clarendon by The Athletic.

First things first, how’s Ionescu’s ankle? She didn’t need surgery, just a lot of rehab.

“I feel really good. Everything’s been going well, progressing as it should,” Ionescu told Marc Stein. “It’s just been fun and exciting to get back out there and start playing and practicing.”

Ionescu noted that there’s been no pressure on her to get back on the court.

“I’m able to do just about everything that I want. I’m not playing live now and probably won’t be for a while, just because there’s no point playing live. It’s not necessarily for my health or my ankle, but just due to Covid-19 and everything going on. I don’t really feel like I want to go to a gym and start playing with random people at this point...

“I’m actually pretty patient. I’m just making sure I’m staying healthy. There’s nothing really I’m rushing back for, so I think that’s definitely helped me. There’s not a game in a week that I need to get ready for. I have a while until next season, so I think this is going to be a time to just get my body where I want it to be.”

The 5’11” point guard talked about that 33-point game with Stein.

“I just felt comfortable. I obviously learned from the first game [Ionescu shot 4 for 17 from the field in her debut against the Seattle Storm] and just kept watching film and was just able to find my shots and felt more and more comfortable,” she told Stein.

And she looked like she was going to start rolling. When she left the court in the second quarter of Game 3, she already had 10 points.

Ionescu said the WNBA “wubble” was difficult, noting the focus on basketball was all-consuming.

“It’s really hard, and it’s definitely not ideal. I think they did a great job keeping it safe and doing the best that they can with the short notice of having to kind of start the season and try to keep our best interests at hand. But, obviously, to eat, sleep and breathe your job is not always the best route that you could possibly take.”

Clarendon, who spoke with The Athletic’s Erica Ayala, had her best season statistically averaging 11.5 points in place of Ionescu while shooting better than 40 percent from deep. She is also not afraid to mix it up.

“Layshia was 80 percent in the restricted area this year,” Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb pointed out. “I don’t know where that ranks in the league off the top of my head, but that’s remarkable.”

The WNBA veteran didn’t mince words in discussing her frustration with the team’s performance.

“I didn’t come to New York to have a losing season,” Clarendon told the media September 8, before what would be her last game of the season. “I knew we were rebuilding, (but) I’m definitely a competitor first and foremost. So this has been an extremely frustrating season. I can sit here poised and talk to the media, but I’ve had my frustrations.”

Going into this season, she had already established herself as a league leader. Clarendon was a key figure in the groundbreaking Collective Bargaining Agreement that the WNBA players union reached with team owners just before the 2020 season.

Clarendon spent much of her time in the “wubble” with the Liberty’s other rookies, trying to help them get through a difficult experience. Her biggest leadership role came at the league level, however. She embraced Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues head-on, become a vocal member of the league’s Social Justice Council, a WNBA/WNBPA leadership group assigned to raising awareness ... as she had at Cal.

She has noted that she believes being whole, being authentic being committed to larger issues has improved her play.

“I want to be a part of New York winning their first championship. That’s a big goal. I have that belief in myself,” Clarendon said. “It’s like having that belief back when I was in college and no one believes we can make it to the Final Four, and you can see the vision before other people can see it.”

“When we’re better, whole people off the court, we’re actually a lot better athletes on the court. And that’s still a really big disconnect in our sports community that we don’t see. And that’s something that’s fueled my activism,” Clarendon told Ayala.

And she said that despite this season’s many frustrations, she can see better days ahead.

“I want to be a part of New York winning their first championship. That’s a big goal. I have that belief in myself,” Clarendon said. “It’s like having that belief back when I was in college and no one believes we can make it to the Final Four, and you can see the vision before other people can see it.”

There’s a lot more in the two interviews, particularly on Ionescu’s relationship with Kobe and Gianna Bryant and Clarendon’s experiences at Cal, both on and off the court.