Caitlin Clark was ready to lead Iowa to victory. She redefined women’s college hoops along the way

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Caitlin Clark doesn’t want to think about it. Or don’t want to talk about it. He will come later. Maybe much later.

Yes, the Iowa Star sees packed stands. She hears a pop in the crowd every time she sinks another 3-pointer from the Logo. She feels the crowd of media around her. There is no need to remind that his name has been trending everywhere in the last four months, which has changed his life and in some ways, his game.

the reality is All-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I history Imagined some of it. Clark’s sole focus was on finding a way to bounce back after a painful loss to LSU in the national title game a year ago.

After a paradigm-shifting season, that moment came Sunday.

And while it ended the same way as last year’s final against LSU – Clark and the Hawkeyes walked off the field amid confetti that fell on others. South Carolina celebrates its second title in three years – He tried to keep it in perspective.

Yes, she wanted to win. badly. And that’s how she played, especially during the first quarter in which she scored 18 points, a record for most points in a quarter in the NCAA finals. Yet the deep and relentless Gamecocks frustrated Clark and the Hawkeyes. She finished with a total of 30, receiving a long, strong congratulations and hug from coach Lisa Bluder before checking out with 20 seconds remaining.

There were no tears. Not in public anyway. Instead, few appreciated the remarkable journey she thought was possible when she arrived on campus four years ago.

“Emotions will probably get the best of me over the next few days,” Clark said. “I don’t have time to sit around sulking and getting upset. I don’t think that’s what I’m about either. Yeah, I’m sad we lost this game, but I’m very proud of myself, I’m very proud of my teammates, I’m very proud of this program. There is a lot to be proud of.”

Clark’s effect

Evidence of how far Clark and women’s college basketball have come has been everywhere over the past month, nowhere more than in a Final Four loaded with star power both on the court and in the stands.

When Clark’s now-iconic No. 22 took the field for Iowa’s open practice on Saturday, the arena was nearly full. Jogging to meet his teammates in a black jersey, shorts and socks, he accidentally knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing when he first touched the ball, a splash through the net that was met with an audible volume spike. .

That’s what happened over the course of about 50 informal minutes. The cameras on the field never went very far. The crowd never really shut up. This never really happens when Clarke is involved.

This has been going on for some time now. She’s done it all with an unusual polish, welcoming the spotlight only because it gives her the power to point it in whatever direction she chooses.

Clark sees herself not as an individual player but as a part of a growing ecosystem within the women’s game. Sure enough, a record 14.2 million people tuned in to watch Iowa’s win over UConn on Friday night. She doesn’t see it as a one-off.

“I think you see it across the board, whether it’s softball, whether it’s gymnastics, volleyball,” Clark said. “People want to see. It’s only when they’re given the opportunity, research and facts show, that people love it.”

And they especially love Clark, a turn-around moment for Clark that they never saw coming. As a child she remembers being part of the “Jimmer-mania” that surrounded former BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette.

Now he’s in the stands with kids wearing T-shirts like him. She’s the one who has built a fiefdom of sorts, selling out basketball games wherever she wears her black-and-yellow Nikes. It’s all a bit strange, simply because it was never intended to be that way.

Growing up she dreamed of helping Iowa pursue women’s basketball powers. Now he and the Hawkeyes have taken their place among the game’s elite. This was always the goal, surprisingly not all that came with it: endorsements, name-drops from hoops royalty like Lebron James And steph curry And the way she has helped make women’s basketball accessible to an audience that has long been considering it.

This may cause dizziness. However, she has tried to keep it in perspective whenever she can, emphasizing that this thing – whatever it is – is hardly about her. It is about those who came before and those who will come after.

This is such a group expanding rapidly,

As Clark and the Hawkeyes walked through the walk-through, which doubled as a celebration of how far they’ve come, a young girl held a sign that read, “I used to play football , now I whoop.” She’s hardly alone.

“I really believe that every time Kaitlyn breaks a record or goes out in a game, thousands of boys and girls come out shooting and wanting to be the 22-year-old,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. Are.” “Thousands.”

what will happen next

The basic platform – at least at this stage – is ready to be handed over to others. It’s a moment that Clark knows is coming, even if he’s determined not to get ahead of himself. Getting stuck in the final stages of everything will take too much energy from the task at hand.

“I know what happens next will happen soon,” she said on Sunday. “But at the same time, I’m not oblivious to the fact that I need to enjoy it, I need to absorb it.”

wnba draft, where Clark is expected to be taken first by the Indiana Fever, he is looking forward to April 15, which is a little more than a week away. Then maybe spend some time with Team USA before the Paris Olympics.

There has been a whirlwind. There will be a whirlwind. There will be time to reflect on the road. A part of his life came to an end on Sunday. The second one is starting next week. He hopes that those who have come to the tents will stay there for some time to come.

“I don’t really get offended when people say I’ve never watched women’s basketball before,” she said. “I guess, one, you’re a little late to the party, yes. But, two, it’s good. We are changing the game. “We are attracting more people to it.”

People who were ready to support him. The people he saw were rooting against him. People who kept watching out of curiosity. People who kept looking with surprise.

Clark doesn’t really care how or why they came along for the ride. It simply matters what they did, and that means much more than any net-cutting ceremony.

“The way people are not only showing up, but getting excited about the game and investing in the game, they understand the game,” he said. “They know what is happening. They are passionate about it. To me, it’s the coolest thing.”

That’s the Caitlin Clark thing.


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