Former St. Frances guard Nia Clouden has continued to impress Michigan State women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant.
Taryn McCutcheon, Aerial Powers, Tori Jankoska and others have gone on to play professionally in the WNBA under the guidance of Merchant. After overseeing Clouden’s development the past two years, Merchant recalls a precocious freshman immediately commanding the respect of her teammates.
“I think back to her freshman year and we had a lot of pros on that team and we were playing at a high level and she came in and took over the point, no problem,” Merchant said. “I was so impressed with her ability to fill in that role — which is the hardest position to play on the basketball court and just play it with such ease and fluidity.”
Clouden, set to take on 12th-ranked Maryland (7-1, 3-0 Big Ten) on Thursday at 5 p.m. in East Lansing, is closing in on 1,000 career points for No. 23 Michigan State. She comes into Thursday’s matchup with 986, and will soon become the Spartans’ 29th player to hit the 1,000-point mark. She’s averaging 19.1 points per game this season, sixth most in the Big Ten, and 5.0 assists.
“I think it’s a really big opportunity,” Clouden said. “Maryland is one of the best teams in the league. I think that it’s a few teams tied for first right now and both of us are. So, it would be a really big win for us to separate ourselves and to let people know that we’re a good team as well.”
The 5-foot-8 junior guard was a two-time Baltimore Sun All-Metro team selection, leading the Panthers to the area’s top ranking at the end of the 2017-18 season. She averaged 13.3 points, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 44% from the field and 35% from 3-point range.
Clouden made her mark in the biggest games for St. Frances, scoring 23 points and hitting five 3-pointers in a 69-51 win over McDonogh in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship game her senior year. She then scored 24 points in a victory over Good Counsel to help capture the Bishop Walsh Tournament title. Clouden finished her high school career with over 1,500 career points and was twice named the Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year.
Her former St. Frances teammate, Maryland freshman Angel Reese, will not play Thursday after suffering a broken foot early in the season. While the injury won’t allow the former teammates to face each other, Clouden is excited to create a legacy for St. Frances and other Baltimore-area women’s basketball players.
“I think that the Baltimore area and Baltimore County area for women’s basketball is really good,” Clouden said. “It kind of gets overshadowed by the P.G. [Prince George’s] area and D.C. area. We also have good players and we have players that play at a high level. You have me and Angel, another one of our teammates, [Temple senior] Mia Davis and even some of the younger ones still there like Aniya Gourdine. We have really good basketball players and it’s translated really well at the college level.”
Merchant believes that Clouden “came from one of the best high school basketball programs in the country.” The Owings Mills native was ranked in ESPN’s top 50 and Merchant believes that experience playing in big games at the prep level has prepared her to perform in front of the bright lights on the Big Ten stage.
“The thing that really stood out to me about her poise, number one,” Merchant said. “She really has a great demeanor on the court — just calm and poised when she’s running the point and has the ball in her hands. She’s a great finisher — her hesitations, her ability to finish at the rim. I think all of those things, plus the fact of where she came from and how good her high school coaches were, I think that’s something that stood out to us.”