WASHINGTON — Somebody with a big voice, you can usually hear it. With former Cardinal O'Hara and St. Joseph's star Natasha Cloud, you see it, even in a big WNBA arena, music blaring during a timeout, even when she's injured, a hip injury coming right after a foot injury.
Since she wasn't playing Tuesday night, Cloud was at the end of the Washington Mystics' bench. Not because she shies away from the rest of her team. She stood almost the entire game, often putting one knee on a seat, the rest of her up. If their ears were working at all, her teammates, coaches, even the referees knew Cloud was there.
A voice sometimes can travel without words. The Verizon Center roof leaked before a game last month, and an impromptu dance competition broke out between the Mystics and Indiana Fever. Guess who got the dancing started?
When the Mystics decided to take a stand recently on social justice issues, this same person did her share of the talking — first locker on the right, just inside the door. Step right up, she'll talk. (Unless the locker room is still closed. She'll tell you that, too, always the first line of defense.)
Cloud is in her third WNBA season, a first guard off the bench after starting at point guard last season, averaging 4.4 points and 2.9 assists, and her standing seems to move beyond the reach of advanced analytics.
"A-plus,'' Mystics star Elena Delle Donne said of Cloud as a teammate. "Not just because her skill set is so great. Just the energy she brings every day. She brings a loudness, which is great. Even during games, you hear her, the entire game. And that's huge. It gives you energy. It gives you confidence."
So it's possible to be a leader off the bench?
"Oh, 100 percent,'' Delle Donne said. "And that's exactly what she is. If she's missing, like with these injuries, when she's not there, the bench feels a little bit quiet."
Cloud isn't about making noise merely for the fun of it. An hour before Tuesday's game, players warming up, she grabbed a basketball from a bin inside the arena. She then left the arena floor, headed down a hallway, turned a corner, and ducked into a practice gym with a Mystics skills assistant.
"OK to use that basket?'' Cloud asked in the direction of the dance team practicing in that gym.
For a half-hour, while the dance team worked on footwork, she worked on her form, starting close to the hoop using just one hand, trying to get angles straight. She pushed out, adding wrinkles to her work while the dancers kept their own time.
"Really for me, I'm trying to come back by the end of this week,'' Cloud said later, before the Mystics lost their third straight in her absence. Washington has already clinched a playoff spot but hasn't been in top form. That's been her work: "Form shooting, getting my touch back, just making sure I'm keeping my flow, if you will. Trying to rep it out."
Some of her own rules for being a decent teammate?
"A role player for this team, an energy giver,'' Cloud said. "I'm a very loud person, so using my voice on the court, too."
Was she allowed to be loud when she was a rookie out of St. Joseph's?
"I was absorbing, being a sponge,'' Cloud said. "I would say I'm definitely louder now. But when I came in, I was playing the one position. It was my job to talk and try to lead."
Last season, she usually started at point guard. Now, the 6-footer describes her role as more of a utility player. Utility has been a historical feature of her game. Even as as a grade-school CYO star at St. Anastasia in Newtown Square, when opponents tried to throw a junk defense at her, a box-and-one or even a triangle-and-two, with the two on her, Cloud would find wide-open teammates. She has been on teams when she has had to be a scorer, she said, but she gets the same joy out of passing for a hoop.
About that dance contest, which went kind of viral, "I"m a goofball,'' Cloud said. "Most of us are here. We just like to have fun. The music comes on, we're going to dance. We went with it. Indiana jumped in. It was a good time."
When it comes to more serious matters, Cloud, from Broomall in Delaware County, also has raised her voice. After the rally in Charlottesville that resulted in a death, and after Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks players locked arms during the national anthem, Cloud told thinkprogress.org, "This league, we want to use our voices, we want to use our platform, to send the message that we accept and love every person."
She also said, "It's terrible, the state with which our country is in right now. Things needs to change."
Her criticism of President Trump post-Charlottesville was blunt, focusing on her disappointment in him.
Asking about using her voice in this way, Cloud said, "We all have a voice — I think that's what you see, especially with serious issues like the social issues that are going on in our country right now. We all use our voice, and use this platform."
Cloud said her Mystics coach, Mike Thibault, encourages players to use their voice, "to speak up when things aren't right. I think it's always important to have support from the top down to the bottom."
Arriving on Hawk Hill as a transfer from Maryland, Cloud had different roles on the court, said St. Joe's coach Cindy Griffin. She pointed out that the Hawks had a couple of point guards her first season as a sophomore, so Cloud played more of a small-forward role, moving into the backcourt more as a junior, taking the ball as starting point guard as a senior.
"As much as she talks, she knows how to listen, too,'' Griffin said.
A little thing like always calling her teammates by name, whether passing to them on the court or making a point away from it. Her coach appreciated that.
"She picked the right major, communications,'' Griffin said. "She always lit up the room when she came in the office. A bright light came on."
Mystics assistant Marianne Stanley made clear that at the WNBA level, Cloud's play is her most important contribution. She's not on the roster solely for her intangibles.
"She anchors our defense and really communicates well,'' said Stanley, who shares a Catholic League pedigree (Prendergast) and was a star for the famed Immaculata Mighty Macs, and most famously the coach at Old Dominion when the Monarchs won three national titles led by Anne Donovan and Nancy Lieberman.
"You want players who can see the whole action and help out where help is needed,'' Stanley said. "She''s a very vocal player."
That word again.
Not having Cloud for this late-season stretch, Stanley said, "it's tough. She really pushes tempo for us, and as a big guard she can defend multiple positions. It's had an impact, as have all the other injuries."
Seeing Cloud talking at the end of the bench, but not hearing the words — what are the words?
"She's usually talking about defense but supporting whatever's going on out there,'' Stanley said.