By Pat Harty
IOW CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery has been affiliated with college basketball as either a player, assistant coach, or as a head coach, for nearly a half century, and yet, he’s never seen anything like the Caitlin Clark phenomenon.
“Think about it, even in sports, how many people have moved the needle for attendance like she has?” Fran McCaffery asked Friday. “I really can’t, any sport, pro, or college. She’s filling up arenas in Charlotte, North Carolina. Everywhere she goes there’s a line around the building, and people wearing her jersey.
“She just seems to handle it with class and professionalism. And that’s what she’s going to have to do when goes to the WNBA, and she will. I’m excited for her, and excited for that team.”
Fran McCaffery, who has coached the Iowa men’s basketball team since 2010, was asked about Clark’s rise to Hawkeye legend in a Friday press conference.
Clark, a 6-foot- senior guard from West Des Moines, is just 39 points from breaking Kelsey Plum’s all-time NCAA scoring record, and it could happen against Nebraska on Sunday in Lincoln, Nebraska, considering the 6-foot- Clark has scored at least 38 points in five games this season.
She also led Iowa to an NCAA runner-up finish last season, and Iowa is currently ranked second nationally.
Clark’s immense popularity is apparent every time Iowa plays as each game, whether at home or on the road, is a sellout.
Fans on the road now wait in line for hours and some spend enormous amounts of money just to watch Clark play.
Her impact is also felt with the television ratings.
Iowa’s 93-85 win over Maryland last Saturday drew 1.6 million viewers on FOX, making it the most-watched women’s basketball game in the network’s history.
Clark treated the fans to a show as she scored 38 points and had 12 assists in the win over Maryland.
She also scored 27 points and dished out 15 assists in a 111-93 victory over Penn State on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke scored a career-high 47 points in the win over Penn State, and many of her baskets came on assists from Clark.
“I hope everybody realizes how hard it is to do what she’s doing,” Fra McCaffery said. “We’ve all seen how terrific she’s been from the minute she got here. She was great when she first got here and now the whole nation has figured that out and they show up everywhere she goes. And the pressure that puts on an athlete is not easy. And at the same time, there’ some pretty good coaches in that league that are doing everything they can to stop her.”
Clark, a former five-star recruit in high school, is known for her incredible shooting range and for her court vision and passing skills.
Her game really has no weakness.
“But I’ve said this many times; as great as she is, the best skill in my opinion is her passing and her feel for the game and her ability to solve anything that anybody is trying to do to her,” Fran McCaffery said. “She’s got an answer. She splits the double team. She loads people up. She drives to the basket. She finishes. She makes threes. She drives and kicks.
“She immediately sees who’s open and her teammates are doing a great job. They get it. They’ve figured it out. The coaching staff has done a great job. So, I’m thrilled for her, and I’m thrilled for our program. It’s going to be exciting this weekend.”
Fran McCaffery was asked Friday if he thinks Clark’s greatness is now being taken for granted.
Clark came to Iowa during a global pandemic in 2020 and she played her freshman season in mostly empty arenas.
That has certainly changed over the past three years as now it’s hard to even purchase a ticket for an Iowa women’s game without having to spend some serious cash.
“I don’t think anybody takes her for granted,” Fran McCaffery said. “I mean that place is full every night she plays whether we’re home or on the road. And when we’re on the road, there’s a lot of Hawkeye jerseys in that building. So, I think what everybody is doing is appreciating her. I don’t think anybody is taking her for granted.”
Clark could use her free Covid year and return for a fifth season, although, she almost certainly would be the first player taken in the 2024 WNBA draft.
So, it’s probably best to live in the moment and appreciate everything she has done for the Iowa women’s program, and for women’s basketball overall, because her time as a Hawkeye won’t last forever.