- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2021

Before Alysha Clark committed to signing with the Washington Mystics, the forward had a pressing question for soon-to-be teammate Natasha Cloud: “So, what is the traffic like?”

Not great. But the conversations with Cloud, Elena Delle Donne and coach and general manager Mike Thibault convinced the 33-year-old the timing was right to leave the Seattle Storm — the team she played for throughout her WNBA career.

When the offseason began, Thibault wasn’t aware that a possibility to sign Clark would arise. Once he realized it, though, he embarked on a “quick courtship” to secure a two-time WNBA champion and one of the best defenders in the league, the first major move for the Mystics this winter.

“I trust my gut on a lot of things, and when something sits right in my gut, I know it’s the right move,” Clark said. “It wasn’t easy by any means; change is really hard for me. But to be walking into this team and this organization is something I’m really excited about at this stage of my career.”

Clark is coming off her most productive offensive season, producing 10 points and 2.7 assists per game, both of which are career highs. She also led the league in three-point shooting, knocking down 52.2% of her attempts.

While Clark was a high scorer in college at Middle Tennessee State University, posting 28.3 points per game as a senior, she has stood out as a stalwart defender in the WNBA. She was a unanimous All-Defensive First Team selection in 2020.

Washington now has several dominant defenders, including Cloud and Ariel Atkins — both have made All-Defensive teams in the past. Clark said she’s looking forward to bouncing ideas and mentalities off her new teammates. And at 5-foot-11, Clark has the speed and size to defend point guards or forwards, giving Washington flexibility.

“That can wreak a lot of havoc on the defensive end when you can switch things, change matchups, we can do all those things,” Thibault said.

Clark’s enthusiasm for the Mystics helped speed the signing process along and prompted the team to move on from forward Aerial Powers, who signed with the Minnesota Lynx. Thibault said Washington had a verbal agreement with Powers to the basic parameters of a contract, but she began dragging her feet.

At the same time, Thibault heard Clark was considering leaving Seattle.

“It felt like to me that we were being strung out a little bit by Aerial Powers,” Thibault said.

“We had an enthusiasm coming from Alysha Clark in my conversations with her … and the other one was kind of going the other way. We had told Aerial somewhere in that process that we couldn’t wait.

“We kind of put a timetable on it,” Thibault continued. “Alysha was interested in moving hers along quickly, and it just became clear to us that she was excited about it, we were excited about it, and for whatever reason, somewhere in this process, Aerial had lost her enthusiasm.”

Washington had planned to keep most of its roster together before Powers departed. Tina Charles, who opted out of the 2020 campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic, should have her contract resolved by Wednesday, Thibault said. The team expects Cloud and LaToya Sanders to re-sign, as well. 

While unknowns abound regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Thibault said it’s too early to know if Delle Donne, who led the Mystics to the 2019 WNBA title, will compete or opt-out for a second straight season.

There are more complications for the Mystics surrounding Emma Meesseman. The forward plays for the Belgian national team and will feature for that squad during the summer. Thibault said his best guess is Meesseman returns to the Mystics after the Olympics, if that event takes place, leaving Washington with 11 players at the beginning of the season.

“I don’t know that completely,” Thibault said. “It’s still up in the air. But I would say based on all the conversations, that’s probably where the process is leaning right now.”

That uncertainty perhaps makes Clark’s addition even more important. She looks forward to living in a big city like D.C., participating in off-court activities with her teammates — such as social activism — and playing for another contender.

While traffic was one of the first questions out of her mouth when she spoke with Cloud, Clark credits the conversations with her soon-to-be teammates as the final piece in a quickly assembled puzzle that brought her to the Mystics.

“It was super sweet for them to reach out and tell me how excited they were about the possibility, because at the time, that’s all that it was,” Clark said. “To be able to get those reactions from them about the possibility of me potentially joining the team is something that felt really good.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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