Alysha Clark didn’t grow up with sports as the focus of her family’s time. You were more apt to hear music wafting around their home instead of the bounce of a ball.
“Our family is like a music family,” said Clark. “I wasn’t a sports kid at all. You know both my parents played sports in high school but it was never something that they…pushed us into. They kind of let us each find our own thing.”
With seven siblings there were plenty of activities to go around, she had an older and younger sister who ran track but there was no push to be in sports or music. Her parents wanted their children to find out what interested them and then go with it.
“Of course, they supported us once were in it,” said Clark. “They’re like, ‘When you start something you’re going to finish it so you better make sure you like it’.”
But basketball wasn’t necessarily a “like” at first for Clark. She was just trying to find something to do, anything, rather than sitting at home.
“The first year I ever played basketball was seventh grade and that was just because it was an afterschool activity and I didn’t want to go home,” said Clark. “So I literally did every sport. I did tumbling, track, volleyball, basketball and was awful at it but again it was just something.”
By her freshman year in high school Clark had discovered the sports she did like, volleyball and track, and once again basketball was just a “filler” sport. This time it wasn’t about avoiding going home.
“I continued to play basketball in high school because I needed something in between the two seasons to keep me in shape because I didn’t want to work out,” said Clark. “I didn’t want to spend my time working out so I was like, ‘Well, at least if I play basketball I’m still doing something but working out and it will keep me in shape for track season.”
So while Clark played herself into fitness instead of working out she found herself becoming a basketball player and enjoying playing the game.
Clark attended Mt. Juliet High in Tennessee where she honed her athletic skills and as graduation loomed she realized that the sport she once used to avoid had grown on her and was now becoming the sport that could lead her to new adventures.
“Not until my senior year in high school (did) I really realize that this was something I could go to college for,” said Clark. “And even my senior year I almost chose volleyball over basketball for college.”
Clark wasn’t sure why she chose basketball as her sport heading into college, but she was good at it and the opportunities were growing.
“I knew the potential that I had,” said Clark. “And you know bigger schools were looking at me for basketball than they were volleyball so I was like, you know we’ll choose basketball.”
Storm fans are glad she did as she honed her skills first at Belmont College and then at Middle Tennessee College. She was name Player-of-the-Year each of her four years in college and lead the nation in scoring her senior year including scoring 48 points and hitting the game-winning shot for Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt Conference championship.
Clark was drafted by the San Antonio Stars in 2010 and then signed with Seattle as a free agent in 2012 where she’s seen herself grow into her starting forward position.
“My role has changed from when I first got here. My rookie year I was here with some of the best veterans to ever play this game and so that year my role was just to learn, be a great practice player, be a great teammate and just learn as much as I could,” said Clark.
She said the first few years her role was to fill in where she was needed and then the offensive threat started to see her focus move to the other side of the ball.
“Over time, as change has gone, I’ve become a defensive player which is really weird for me,” said Clark. “Coming from college my thing was scoring so (I was) kind of transitioning into that role.”
But there was another area of her game that Clark needed to strengthen, not a physical part but the mental. She said her confidence in being in the WNBA against such strong talent wasn’t always solid, until one of those talented players told her to be strong.
“For a long time, up until probably Tina Thompson’s retirement year, when she told me you deserve to be here,” said Clark. “I struggled with confidence and feeling like (do) I even deserve to be at this level or if I was even good enough to be here. And she was kind of like, ‘Listen, you’re here, you deserve to be here, you have the talent so suck it up and start acting like it.’ And you know when you have a legend telling you that, you know what I mean, it just, she changed my whole mindset and my perspective going forward.”
From that moment on Clark began to play with that confidence. Seattle fans, known as Storm Crazies, began to watch as her defensive prowess grew and her ability at making shots from almost any angle and body position has endeared her to the home crowd.
Where her shot selection comes from even she’s not sure. Maybe her earlier tumbling experience helped give her body the flexibility it needs to complete some of the shots she takes or maybe it was a mix of all the sports she’s played.
“I also think it’s just from playing the post my entire career having to learn how to get shots off in different ways, in orthodox ways,” said Clark. “I think it’s done me well in that sense like I’ve had to learn how to get around bigger defenders or get my shot off quicker or you know be able to use my body as a shield to do that kind of stuff so I think playing the post my entire career (helped).”
Her play on the court and her approachable personality has made her a fan favorite. Clark enjoys meeting the fans and talking with them.
That connection to the community of fans in Seattle has always lifted up her and every Storm over the years.
“I mean they’re amazing,” said Clark. “You know we are in such a great sports city and with all the debate back and forth about the WNBA and visibility and fans and all this kind of stuff to be able to have the amazing crowd that we do night in and night out it speaks volumes to the love of sports that Seattle has.”
Clark knows the league is looking for ways to promote more in each city but when it comes to Seattle showing their love and support for the Storm has always been there.
“We’re one of the cities that our fans and our people back us,” said Clark. “So to be able to come out every night and play in front of them and feed off of their energy, I mean, as athletes you feed off your crowd’s energy you know what I mean? I was here, at the beginning, when the home court advantage was still a thing. And you know to be able to kind of bring that atmosphere back around and see it coming back around its amazing. Because I used to (brag) all the time, about, ‘Did you guys see this crowd last night it was insane,’ and so I think we’re creating that atmosphere again and it’s so much fun, it’s so much fun.”
Clark shows her love for the fans as well as she tweets to reminders to fans on game days and tweets afterwards thanking them for their loud support.
She loves being a part of the Seattle and meeting fans and during one of those fan interactions an idea was born on how she could give back to the community she loves.
Clark said she was talking with one of the Storm’s season ticket holders who worked at Seattle Children’s hospital when she asked Clark about coming to the hospital for a visit with the kids. Clark said she’d love to.
The first year she was invited she went on one visit, then a few more and from there as she said it took off and she kept going back.
“I fell in love with the kids there, I fell in love with the staff and the families and you know for me I wanted to find a way to help them be kids,” said Clark. “They’re dealing with real life issues. They’re dealing with health issues that no kid should have to deal with you know what I mean? They have enough problems going on. So I was like, ‘You know, what if I could bring a smile to a couple of these kid’s faces then I’m doing my job as a human being,’ and so I just kind of had an idea.”
The idea? An annual toy drive to fill the playroom at the hospital.
“I was like, ‘If I could just get some toys to go in there like that would be great,” said Clark. “And the turnout, the people that have supported, the fans that have brought stuff, like I’ve just been blown away.”
Clark continues to be blown away by the donations and support from the community and this year her annual toy drive got a buddy.
“This year with lime bike partnering and donating bikes and helmets like its doing, I couldn’t even imagine it being on this level,” said Clark. “I’m really thankful for all the support and the love to be able to help bring smiles to these kid’s faces and families.”
Clark and the Storm held their Fourth Annual Toy Drive on July 14 before Seattle’s game against the Dallas Wings.