By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – About 3 ½ years ago, I started hearing about a girls basketball player from my high school alma mater, West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, who was being described as a future star with special talent.
I started hearing about her incredible shooting range, her quick release, her vision, her moxie and her competitiveness, and that she would someday have the best programs in the country working hard to sign her.
And while it’s easy to get carried away with superlatives in sports, everything I heard back then about Caitlin Clark was true, as we’re now seeing, her latest masterpiece being Wednesday’s 34-point performance that helped the Iowa women’s basketball team overcome a 17-point second-half to defeat Iowa State 82-80 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Clark made a 3-point basket with 23.9 seconds left to play that proved to be the game-winning basket.
She was dribbling near the top of the key, and then executed a quick crossover dribble to her left before shooting over the outstretched hand of her defender. Clark was at least three feet behind the 3-point line when she released her shot.
Good morning. It’s a Hawkeye State.
That is all.
— Iowa Women’s BBall (@IowaWBB) December 10, 2020
She made it look easy and effortless, because in many ways, it is easy and effortless for Clark due to the countless hours she has spent practicing the game she loves.
Iowa had to withstand some of the top programs in the country to sign Clark, who was ranked as the fourth best prospect in her senior class by ESPN.
Notre Dame, I’m told, was given serious consideration by Clark, which makes sense for lots of reasons.
But she ultimately picked Lisa Bluder and the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the timing couldn’t have been better with All-Big Ten guard Kathleen Doyle having used up her eligibility last season.
And what is truly incredible about the start of Clark’s Hawkeye career is that she might even be better than advertised, if that’s possible.
She already has shown a flair for the dramatic, and the ability to excel under pressure.
Clark made four 3-point baskets during the dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against Iowa State.
“I don’t think we’re ever out of a game with her because she is capable of being explosive like that,” said Lisa Bluder.
The 6-foot Clark also makes the players around her better because she’s unselfish. She is a gifted scorer who is relied on to make shots, and Bluder made it abundantly clear at media day that Clark would have the green light this season as a true freshman.
“I think she’s going to have to do it because that’s her game, and I think she will be out of sorts if she’s not doing that, if she doesn’t have the ball in her hands, if she’s not looking for that,” Bluder said at media day. “I don’t think we’ll see the best Caitlin unless she is really looking to score.
“But again, I cautioned her and really all of us that she’s not going to put up the numbers she did in high school. She averaged 35 points a game or something like that. No, we’re a balanced team. She’s smart, and she’s played with enough good players with the USA Basketball experience that she understands that and she knows this isn’t going to be a one-woman show, and she understood that when we recruited her.”
Bluder is correct in saying that Iowa isn’t a one-woman show. But even Bluder seems to have underestimated Clark’s scoring ability, considering Clark is averaging 28.5 points per game, which isn’t that different from high school.
But Clark doesn’t hunt for shots, or take shots when teammates are wide open. She takes a lot of shots because she makes a lot of them, and because she has the ability to create her own shot.
But again, Clark doesn’t hog the ball at the expense of the offense, and she is a gifted and willing passer.
In addition to scoring 30 points in a victory over Drake, Clark also had 13 assists, four steals and three rebounds.
Against Wisconsin, she posted 23 points, five assists, five rebounds, and a steal.
Those two performances earned Clark Big Ten Women’s Basketball Player, and Freshman of the Week honors.
Clark could be well on her way to winning those two weekly awards again based on her performance against Iowa State, which included scoring 26 points in the second half and having seven rebounds and six assists.
Clark is hardly a solo act, though, and her ability to fit in with her teammates as a true freshman while carrying such a huge role as a scorer says a lot about her, and about her teammates and coaches.
Iowa had a 17-0 scoring run in Tuesday’s game and outscored Iowa State 26-7 in the fourth quarter with a number of players contributing.
Sophomore Kate Martin had three rebounds and two assists in the fourth quarter, and she also made a 3-point basket that evened the score at 75 with 3:37 remaining.
Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen also contributed to the win by reportedly delivering a powerful message before the start of the fourth quarter.
“Coach J came to our huddle and said believe in yourself, believe in yourself, we believe in you,” Clark said.
Caitlin Clark is only four games into her Hawkeye career, and yet, she already has shown that she is special. The challenge now is to keep showing it, one game after another.
Her team is also 4-0, and that’s another sign of a great player; winning.
All the stuff I heard about Clark at the beginning of her high school career is now coming true.
She was a star in the making, and now that star is shining brightly.