One Tuesday morning during her summer vacation at home in West Des Moines, Caitlin Clark (understandably) can be found with a basketball in her hands.
Clark is known for her “logo shots”, the ones she impetuously drains with regularity from 30 feet and beyond. But today, she stands just 5 feet from the edge.
With her back to the hoop at a family friend’s home gym, Clark – called “the most entertaining player in college basketball” by Yahoo Sports – is playfully frustrated that a new move from position she practices is a difficult beginning.
“It’s a trip. Of course!” exclaims the consensus American guard in Iowa: “One hundred and ten percent!”
His coach of the past five years, Kevin O’Hare, is the one throwing his passes. He believes the most dynamic offensive player in the college game has plenty of room to improve. O’Hare makes her work on her left and uses her long 6-foot frame to post shorter point guards to generate an even bigger offensive arsenal.
“With as many shooters as Iowa has and a setter as good as her, if you put her in the position and they come in with double teams, there’s obviously going to be someone open,” O said. ‘Hare. “And they shoot it at a high clip. I think that can add to his game. A lot.
Clark tries the move again. Wrong pump. Dribble between the legs. But…she dribbles one too many times on her way to the rim.
Next time around, the move is exactly what O’Hare wants, and she scores after a powerful dribble with a left hand. Then she does it again correctly. And even.
It’s a scary proposition for opponents waiting for the 2022-23 Iowa women’s basketball season that Clark continues to improve.
After becoming the first Division I women’s basketball player to lead the nation in scoring (27.0 points) and assists (8.0 per game) in the same season…and leading Iowa to a regular season and Big Ten Conference Tournament title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament… Clark says she’s “hungrier than ever.”
“Let’s say we reached the Final Four last year, I would always train like that,” she said. “That’s how I am.”
Microphones and cameras are there for a reason. First, because Clark, still only 20, is a nationally recognized sports figure. But two, because, as she recently took to Twitterhis college career is already halfway through.
And that begs the question: what does Caitlin Clark have planned for her second act?
Motivation is easy to find for Caitlin Clark
In today’s college sports climate of transfer portals and NIL collectives that essentially make everyone a free agent (if they choose), Clark would be attractive to any basketball program in the country. But Clark — who in October became the first college athlete, male or female, to be sponsored by Hy-Vee — is a lifelong Iowanese who doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
What a gift for Iowa fans and for the Hawkeyes from coach Lisa Bluder whom Clark is certainly not distracted by money-making opportunities and wants to use these next two years to bring as much success as possible. to his team. (Yes, she could possibly stay three more years using a free COVID-19 eligibility year, but four years of college and then a professional career is the plan.)
One of Dowling Catholic High School’s top five national recruits who could have gone anywhere in the country, Clark says after two years of college, she absolutely made the right choice.
“I never want to leave Iowa,” she says. “I want to stay in college forever.”
As far as team goals go, getting Iowa to its second Final Four is at the top of Clark’s list. Clark easily knows that Final Four 2023 is in Dallas, and she pulls out her phone to reveal the latest Final Four logo atop her team’s text chat.
The motivation is still pretty fresh, considering the Hawkeyes were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in a second-round upset by 10th-seeded Creighton in March. She doesn’t need to remind him that she shot 4 for 19 from the floor in that 64-62 loss. Still, his older brother, Blake, occasionally texts him a photo of the celebrating Creighton players and the Carver-Hawkeye Arena scoreboard.
Let an older brother know how to stoke his sister’s fire.
“It gets you a bit forward inside,” Clark says. “It just makes you want to work even harder and prove everyone wrong.”
Every starter is back from a Hawkeye squad that has weathered a ton of adversity – including a two-week break in the season for a COVID-19 outbreak (mostly among coaching staff) and injuries in February to two key starters. – to post a 24-8 record and twice cut the Big Ten title nets. That includes center Monika Czinano, who last season averaged 21.2 points per game and led the nation with 67.9% shooting.
“It was a little difficult for us at times,” Clark says. “But there was also this stride that we hit at the end of the year where we were great. And if we can play like that every game, we’re going to be unstoppable. And I think everyone in the country knows it too.”
She is excited to spend the summer in Iowa City, starting in early June. Normally, Clark’s summers are spent traveling the world with USA Basketball. Staying in Iowa will help him acclimate to new teammates — including highly anticipated freshmen Jada Gyamfi, Taylor McCabe and Hannah Stuelke. The transfer of point guard Molly Davis, who averaged 18.6 points per game last year for Central Michigan, should help Clark get some more backup … and rest. The fast-paced Hawkeyes are using the 15 scholarships available in hopes of building a stronger team than last year.
“The practices are going to be super competitive. There will be a lot of people competing for playing time,” Clark says. “But if you want to go far, you need a deep team. If you look at (the national champion) from South Carolina, they have a lot of really good players and she (Dawn Staley) goes on her bench quite often. Being able to develop a lot of people ready to go when their name is called will be huge for us.
Individually, Clark has an ambitious agenda
Clark recently attended the state high school track meet, a rare opportunity to see his younger brother Colin compete. She was constantly stopped for conversations and photo ops. Clark continues to be surprised that she’s a celebrity everywhere she goes.
“I’m 20. I come home and do normal things. When someone asks me for a picture, I’m like, ‘I promise you, I’m not that cool,'” Clark laughs. “I don’t feel like a celebrity or celebrity, but it’s so cool that people are excited about our game and our program.”
In a funny story since she’s been home for a few weeks, Clark says she was at Hy-Vee (catch wise) and was waiting for her mom by the flower section with her Starbucks coffee. A woman approached and asked where the basilisk was. Clark unassumingly pointed her in the right direction.
“I worked for Hy-Vee for a second,” Clark says. “It was funny.
“She started to walk away, and she turned around and said, ‘I think I know you. You’ve had such an amazing year. That’s the first thing everyone says to me. It’ is like, ‘We’ve never watched women’s basketball before. We watch every game of yours. To me, that’s the coolest part.
As Clark’s college career enters the second half, she doesn’t feel pressured to continue impressing people who tune in to see her logo shots and highlights.
As Clark sees it, his stardom helps bring new fans to his teammates.
“Someone came up to me the other day and said, ‘It seems like you’re all best friends,’ Clark says. ‘And I’m like, ‘Yeah, we are. I swear.’ We love We are never bored of each other.
On the pitch, Clark has a program of individual goals.
No. 1, best defense.
According to HerHoopStats.com, Clark’s offense ranks in the 99th or 100th percentile in nearly every offensive category among Division I players. But as a freshman, his defense was ranked in the fifth percentile. “Like, awful,” she said.
As a sophomore, his defense jumped to the 64th percentile. Continuing this progress is a priority, and avoiding reprehensible trouble can help its cause. Now entering her first year, she has a better idea of how adversaries are trying to draw charges against her.
No. 2, reducing his errors.
“Limiting rotations is a huge issue for me,” Clark says, “and it came up a lot in my post-season meeting (with Bluder).”
Clark averaged 4.75 turnovers per game last season. In a midseason loss to Maryland, she committed 10. She says she will continue to push the limits of her game, but will aim to make better in-game decisions.
#3, keeping her cool.
O’Hare urges Clark to be less abrasive when challenging calls with officials.
“It must be when one of her teammates shoots a free throw and she leans over to the referee and says, ‘Did you see that person catch me? Just keep an eye on that,'” O’Hare says. “(It’s those) types of conversations, rather than the antics and all that. But it’s something she’s been working on.”
Clark surprises O’Hare and smiles. She’s gotten better over the years at channeling her emotions, but there’s always room for improvement.
This one-hour training is over. Clark repeatedly had his hands on his knees as sweat soaked into his gray Hawkeye t-shirt.
She does not take it easy during the summer holidays.
This was demonstrated by a mid-range shooting practice, in which Clark makes 20 jump shots from five different spots just inside the 3-point line. That day, Clark set his personal best in five years of performing this exercise with O’Hare – by recording 88 of 100 punches.
There’s no doubt that Clark isn’t satisfied with what she’s accomplished in two years in Iowa. And she’s doing even better.
“Being able to be here for two years, I know I definitely made the right choice,” Clark says. “Our program is really special. More than anything, I’m just grateful for everything that happened, and it was a lot of fun. But I’m still eager to know more.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow covered the sport for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.