Home News Caitlin Clark leaves Iowa with game-changing legacy, looks ahead to WNBA Draft...

Caitlin Clark leaves Iowa with game-changing legacy, looks ahead to WNBA Draft in Brooklyn

Minutes after South Carolina wrapped up its undefeated championship season with a 87-75 win over Iowa, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley paused the celebration.

Standing on the postgame platform at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Staley told ABC she had one more thing to say before the cameras cut away.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said Sunday. “She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it just is not going to stop here on a collegiate tour, but when she is the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, she is going to lift that league up as well. Caitlin Clark … you are one of the [greatest of all time].”

Staley’s praise for her opponent succinctly summarized what almost can’t be put into words. Clark, Iowa’s generational superstar, repeatedly rewrote record books with her unprecedented scoring and the similarly unparalleled viewership of her games, delivering a paradigm-shifting boost to women’s college basketball.

The 22-year-old Clark ended her four-year Iowa career Sunday as college basketball’s all-time leading scorer with 3,951 points, passing the likes of Kelsey Plum, Lynette Woodard and Pete Maravich this season.

Clark’s sharp-shooting – often from as deep as the center-court logo – and premier playmaking helped her win numerous national player of the year honors for the second consecutive season.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts during a second-round college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is pictured against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament on March 25. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Her excellence had plenty of witnesses.

Iowa’s loss in the 2023 NCAA championship game to Angel Reese-led LSU garnered 9.9 million viewers, the most ever at the time for a women’s college basketball game.

This month’s rematch in the Elite Eight drew 12.3 million viewers. That record was then eclipsed by Iowa’s Final Four win over UConn last Friday, which registered 14.2 million viewers. The latter was ESPN’s most-watched basketball broadcast ever, passing Game 7 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

“I don’t really get offended when people say, ‘I’ve never watched women’s basketball before,’” Clark said after Sunday’s loss. “One, you’re a little late to the party, yes, but, two, that’s cool. We’re changing the game. We’re attracting more people to it.”

Clark, who hails from Des Moines, Iowa, grew up dreaming of playing at UConn, her sport’s powerhouse program, but wasn’t recruited by Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, according to a recent ESPN profile.

She ended up at the University of Iowa – about two hours from home – and immediately emerged as a star, averaging 26.6 points and 7.1 assists per game as a freshman in 2020-21.

Those averages rose during each of Clark’s four years there, culminating in a season for the ages in 2023-24, when her 31.6 points and 8.9 assists per game led the country.

Clark’s profile ascended to new heights during the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot guard delivered the first 40-point triple-double in tournament history during last year’s Elite Eight win over Louisville, then followed that performance with a 41-point outing to upset previously undefeated South Carolina in the Final Four.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark ties her shoe during a practice for an NCAA Women's Final Four semifinals basketball game Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark during a practice before her Final Four game against UConn in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This season featured even more highlights. Clark passed Plum as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball on Feb. 15; Woodard as the top scorer in major-college women’s basketball on Feb. 28; and Maravich for the overall NCAA scoring crown on March 3.

Her 18 points in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to South Carolina were the most ever in a single quarter of a championship game. She finished the game with 492 career points in 17 tournament games, also setting a record.

“It’s certainly been a special year,” Clark said Sunday. “After last year, I was kind of like, ‘How do we top what we did last year?’ Somehow, some way, every single person in our locker room believed, and to be honest, this year was probably more special than last year.”

Clark could have returned to Iowa for a fifth season due to the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver for the 2020-21 season, but she declared for the 2024 WNBA Draft in late February, right before her school’s senior day.

She’s widely expected to be selected first overall by Indiana Fever in the draft, which is set to take place April 15 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

With the Fever, Clark would join an ascending roster also featuring last year’s first overall pick, forward Aliyah Boston, who averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game en route to Rookie of the Year honors.

Clark arrives with unique expectations, though many of her heavily hyped predecessors adapted quickly to the WNBA. Since 2008, 11 of the 16 players selected first overall won Rookie of the Year. Among them are Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark pauses as she speaks during a press conference before practice for the NCAA Women's Final Four championship basketball game on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark addresses reporters on April 6, the day before the NCAA championship game in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Parker, who averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game during her debut season, was the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player as a rookie, while Charles, Moore, Stewart and Wilson each received MVP votes.

Other first overall picks who didn’t win Rookie of the Year include Brittney Griner, who was an All-Star during her first season; and Sabrina Ionescu, who averaged 18.3 points per game.

Plum got off to a quieter start, averaging 8.5 points per game as a rookie in 2017, but has since emerged as one of the league’s best players. She averaged 20.2 points per game in 2022 and 18.7 points in 2023 for the Las Vegas Aces, who won championships both seasons.

Shortly after Clark declared for the draft, the Fever acknowledged “a spike in ticket inquiries.” Indiana’s first home game is scheduled for May 16 against the Liberty.

“When I think about women’s basketball going forward, obviously it’s just going to continue to grow, whether it’s at the WNBA level, whether it’s at the college level,” Clark said Sunday. “Everybody sees it. Everybody knows. Everybody sees the viewership numbers. When you’re given an opportunity, women’s sports just kind of thrive.”


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