Thursday, May 23, 2024

Moments that defined Nia Clouden's Spartan career ahead of the WNBA Draft

April 11, 2022
<p>Senior guard Nia Clouden (24) leaps over Illinois&#x27;s sophomore guard Aaliyah Nye to score during the second quarter of the game. The Spartans beat the Fighting Illini, 75-60, in their Big Ten opener on Dec. 9, 2021.</p>

Senior guard Nia Clouden (24) leaps over Illinois's sophomore guard Aaliyah Nye to score during the second quarter of the game. The Spartans beat the Fighting Illini, 75-60, in their Big Ten opener on Dec. 9, 2021.

In the league's 26 years of livelihood, Michigan State women's basketball has seen four players graduate and get selected in the WNBA Draft to play professionally.

Most recently, in 2017, Tori Jankoska was the No. 9 pick overall to the Chicago Sky and played with the Polish basketball club Basket Gdynia from 2017-18. She joined the collegiate coaching ranks in 2018 and now serves as an assistant coach for the University of Virginia women's basketball program.

In 2016, it was Aerial Powers. The No. 5 pick overall, the highest pick to come out MSU, headed to the Dallas Wings. She was acquired by the Washington Mystics in July of 2018, where she signed a one year contract in business exchanges. She signed with the Minnesota Lynx as an unrestricted free agent to a three-year contract in February 2021 and currently plays for them as a forward/guard combo. Head Coach Suzy Merchant called her the "Draymond Green" of the women's program.

A decade before that, in 2006, Liz Shimek was picked up by the Phoenix Mercury as the No. 4 pick in the second round before later getting traded to the Houston Comets, who dissolved in 2008, and the Chicago Sky, where she spent two seasons.

The first was Kristin Haynie, one of Merchant's right hands in Spartan successes. She was the No. 9 pick overall to the Sacramento Monarchs, where she played from 2005-2007 before making her way home, stopping with the Atlanta Dream in 2008 and, eventually, the Detroit Shock in 2009. She too got into the collegiate coaching ranks after her professional career, in 2012, and has been with MSU since 2019.

Today, senior guard Nia Clouden and graduate forward Alisia Smith are up for basketball auction and dreams are going to be made into reality.

"She's put in the work and it'll be interesting to see what team she goes to, (because) I know there's quite a few teams that want her," Merchant said of Clouden.

Clouden has been cordially and personally invited to New York City to attend the draft in person alongside 11 others, including Michigan senior forward Naz Hillmon.

She spent the last four years wearing the green and white jersey with a strong sense of self and school spirit. She's had an illustrious career, ending it second in career scoring with a total of 1,882 points, surpassing Powers. She scored 601 points alone in the 2021-22 season, stealing the school record slot from Jankoska for most points scored in a single division I women's basketball game by dropping 50 at Florida Gulf Coast in December 2021.

She also ended fifth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 20 points per game and is seventh in the nation in free throws made, making 192 this season alone. She even captured four straight years of Big Ten honors on top of several other pre, mid and post-season accolades.

It's only right that we honor Clouden, who has been deemed the G.O.A.T. by her teammates and coaches here in East Lansing, by looking at her biggest moments as Spartan No. 24.

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Clouden's MSU debut was an exhibition game against Hillsdale in November 2018, where she nearly posted a triple-double with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds to capture the Spartan victory.

Clouden was one of three members of the Spartans' 2018 recruiting class and saw plenty of time at the point one, even with veteran guards Shay Colley and Taryn McCutcheon on the floor.

She made a massive first impression and solidified her spot in the starting lineup for the next four years. Clouden never missed a game, starting in all 117 scheduled during her time as a Spartan. Merchant is quoted saying she was impressed by her ability to run the team that quickly as a rookie and that she had a dominant and commanding presence when she took the court that night.

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Michigan State was 8-1 on the season when No. 3 Oregon came to East Lansing in December 2018. And they became 9-1 when they defeated the Ducks 88-82 in the final seconds, registering the program's highest ranked win at the time since Dec. 2004.

Clouden played 23 minutes, able to get nine points, four rebounds and four assists on the board. When asked about most memorable moments at the end of her senior season, she said this was on the list as one of them.

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When her team needed it the most, Clouden always rose to the occasion.

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Clouden cemented her status as a star guard in March 2021 after she raked in 27 second-half points in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament to take the victory over No. 9 Indiana. The classics of surviving and advancing, with 15 of those 27 points she scored in the third quarter alone.

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One of the single biggest wins of the 2021-22 season was when in-state, long-time rival No. 4 Michigan made the trip up and across town. A struggling team, facing adversity after adversity, was able to hop on the back of Clouden for her one last rivalry win. Clouden scored 20 points and hit two buzzer-beating three-pointers to fasten their lead over the Wolverines for the eventual shutdown.

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Clouden's last game was in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals, where MSU was unplugged from the postseason run by No. 1 Ohio State in a brutal second day matchup.

Clouden scored seven points, six rebounds and eight assists, but was unable to help her team overcome a 20-point deficit. In the press conference following the game, Clouden was seen crying. The one who never showed emotion was showing emotion, cracking at the seams, as she knew, this was it, time to hang the jersey.

"It's obviously really sad," Clouden said, evidently choking back tears. "I'm just glad I got to do it with these people and this coach who has believed in me from day one – sorry, I don't usually cry – but yeah, I've been here with a group of people who have embraced me and really lifted me up and I'm (thankful for it all)."

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