Caitlin Clark: Iowa’s record-breaking basketball supernova who everyone is talking about

Clark-mania is in full swing – and then some.

Known for her unerring sharpshooting ability from deep, the 22-year-old Caitlin Clark has become one of the biggest names ever in college sports as she became the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball.

Meanwhile, her popularity away from the court knows no bounds.

Clark’s University of Iowa jerseys and shirts are online retailer Fanatics’ top-selling college athlete edition since it began selling collegiate athletic apparel in 2022, the website told CNN. She’s also inked deals with Gatorade, Nike and State Farm, among others, recently.

With just two games remaining in the college regular season, Clark has an opportunity to go one step further as she sits within touching distance of the all-time scoring record in men’s or women’s NCAA basketball, set by the late Pete Maravich who played at Louisiana State from 1967 to 1970.

Clark’s success at the collegiate level has earned her the moniker ‘Ponytail Pete’ – an homage to Maravich’s ‘Pistol’ nickname.

Since exploding into the wider public conscious with her unbelievable play throughout March Madness and eventual spat with LSU Tigers forward Angel Reese last year, Clark has developed into the dominant force in college basketball – both men’s and women’s – and her arrival in the WNBA is more a case of when, not if.

Clark celebrates with her teammates after breaking Kelsey Plum's scoring record. - Matthew Putney/AP

Clark celebrates with her teammates after breaking Kelsey Plum’s scoring record. – Matthew Putney/AP

Supernova talent

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, her commitment to her home state university in 2020 has proven a masterstroke for Clark herself, the Hawkeyes and women’s basketball in general.

Clark was handed the reins to the Iowa offense almost immediately, averaging almost 27 points as a freshman. In her third season with the team, Iowa reached its first ever NCAA women’s basketball national championship game, though the Hawkeyes eventually lost to LSU.

One of the most impressive things about Clark’s career has been her yearly progression. This season, she is averaging just over 32 points – by far the most in her career – with a solid shooting percentage (46.9%), including almost 40% from three-point range.

And, as she continued to develop, the attention on her game’s only increased.

“I started in a year where it was Covid, and you’re playing in front of just your family and cardboard cutouts,” she told TNT Sports in October 2023.

“And now to be in my senior year, playing in front of 15,000 people, it’s special, it’s historic.

“It’s not anything that’s really been done in women’s basketball before.”

Clark against Christyn Williams of the UConn Huskies during the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 Women's March Madness. - Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Clark against Christyn Williams of the UConn Huskies during the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 Women’s March Madness. – Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Like Steph Curry in the NBA and Sabrina Ionescu in the WNBA, Clark’s ability to hit defense-breaking three-pointers from way downtown has made her an elite talent as well as a social media darling.

A prime example of her skillset came in her record-breaking moment, pulling up from almost the halfcourt logo with no hesitation, a maneuver which she’s used with regularity and has fans gushing over her unique skillset.

Despite the attention, Clark has remained grounded, according to long-time Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen.

Jensen remembers Clark saying, “Now, what else can we do?” moments after becoming the all-time top scorer in collegiate women’s basketball.

Jensen (left) said that Clark (right) was at the forefront of making sure Iowa remained motivated in practice the day after her record-breaking game against Michigan. - Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/USA Today Network

Jensen (left) said that Clark (right) was at the forefront of making sure Iowa remained motivated in practice the day after her record-breaking game against Michigan. – Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/USA Today Network
Clark’s popularity is not uncommon among former collegiate stars. Zion Williamson, Kelsey Plum, Anthony Davis, Maya Moore, Allen Iverson, Brittney Griner and Shaquille O’Neal all entered their respective NBA and WNBA Drafts after having become national darlings in the NCAA.

What is arguably unique about Clark’s popularity is that that her journey, social media clips and her possible WNBA home are being followed more closely than many of her current male peers on a collegiate level.

Such a platform seemingly rests lightly on Clark’s shoulders.

“I think I’ve embraced that role of being a name that people can identify women’s sports with really well, I think it’s something that I accept and I’m comfortable doing,” she told TNT Sports in October 2023.

“If that’s what’s going to help our game move forward, if that’s what’s going to help women’s sports move forward, it’s just something I want to embrace and enjoy and be an advocate for.”

Clark has declared for the WNBA Draft and will likely play for the Indiana Fever after the team won the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick.

For a league often in the shadow of its male counterpart, Clark could help open new possibilities in terms of marketing and opportunities for the WNBA to grow.

Following the first of its kind three-point competition at this year’s All-Star Game – with NBA pitted against WNBA in ‘Stephen vs. Sabrina’ – some are suggesting an expansion of the format, with Clark thrust in.

“Let’s get the four best shooters on the planet,” NBA Hall of Famer and former three-point specialist Reggie Miller said during the 2024 All-Star Game.

“Let’s get Damian Lillard and Steph as a team vs. Sabrina and, possibly if she decides to come out (of college), Caitlin Clark, who’s another great sharpshooter. How about those two against Steph and Dame? I would love to see that.”

Clark signs an autograph after becoming the all-time NCAA women's college basketball top scorer. - Matthew Putney/AP

Clark signs an autograph after becoming the all-time NCAA women’s college basketball top scorer. – Matthew Putney/AP

What is undeniable are the eyeballs Clark has brought to college women’s basketball. Every one of her Iowa games is attended by almost 15,000 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, mostly there seemingly to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

The cameras follow Clark’s every move during Iowa games, whether on the court or not, as most are there to see what is likely to be her final few games for the team. Even with all that attention, Jensen outlined the joy she plays with.

“I tell people all the time about Caitlin, she is special in that she truly has a blast playing this game,” Jensen said.

“And at the moment, what’s awesome about Caitlin, when she’s been little five-year-old Caitlin to now, is when she’s playing and whomever is watching – if there’s 10 little kids on the playground, or two, or stadiums – she wants you all to know, at this particular moment, she’s the best there ever was because that’s how she’s wired.

“But when it’s over, all those balls that she gets and the trophies, they are the least of her concern. And her eyes sparkle, and she cannot wait to do it again and to just have those moments.”

Clark is a fan-favorite among Iowa supporters, as they turn out in their droves to watch her eye-catching performances. - Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Clark is a fan-favorite among Iowa supporters, as they turn out in their droves to watch her eye-catching performances. – Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Polarizing

Clark has spoken about how her competitiveness is a trait which has fueled her, but that passion has sometimes grated against others.

In last year’s March Madness, Clark was at the center of the biggest talking point of the tournament after LSU’s Reese directed a gesture at her in the closing minutes of the NCAA women’s basketball national championship game.

Reese could be seen approaching Clark before moving her open hand in front of her face – widely popularized by WWE star John Cena as a taunt to mean “you can’t see me” – before pointing to her ring finger in a gesture some interpreted as a reference to the place her newly acquired championship ring might sit.

Clark made a similar open hand gesture to another player earlier in the tournament.

Reese’s actions sparked much debate, especially on social media. Some criticized the LSU star, while others defended her gestures, highlighting how there was no public outrage in response to Clark earlier in the tournament.

Clark herself defended Reese afterwards, but the moment divided the sporting landscape in support of her or in opposition.

Reese's gesture toward Clark during the second half of the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball national championship game became one of the biggest talking points of the college basketball season. - Tony Gutierrez/AP

Reese’s gesture toward Clark during the second half of the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball national championship game became one of the biggest talking points of the college basketball season. – Tony Gutierrez/AP
And even recently, Clark has been the subject of some critique.

Sheryl Swoopes – one of the WNBA’s pioneers and most successful players – made inaccurate comments on a podcast, saying Clark was a fifth-year player who takes “about 40 shots a game” in an attempt to criticize the Iowa star.

Clark is in her fourth year at Iowa and averages 22.7 field goal attempts per game.

Swoopes – a three-time WNBA MVP and seven-time All-WNBA player – did later apologize and said she had spoken to Clark directly, but her comments caused a storm in the women’s basketball sphere.

A number of Iowa fans wore t-shirts to a recent game with the phrase “Don’t Be A Sheryl,” while Reese weighed in, posting on X – formerly known as Twitter – “I want to be like (Sheryl Swoopes).”

ESPN pundit and former Duke Blue Devils star Jay Williams said that while he thinks Clark is “probably the most prolific scorer the game of basketball has ever seen,” he is unable to call her “great yet.”

“I’m not saying that she’s not at a high, high, high level,” he said of Clark, “but for it to go to the states of immortality, in my opinion, it has to culminate with your team winning a championship.”

Famed college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, however, disagrees with that criticism, saying that he didn’t think it was “FAIR to eliminate someone that doesn’t win a championship” and comparing Clark to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen in Wilt Chamberlain.

Being at the center of controversy is something all top-level athletes have to deal with and Clark, even through four years of college basketball, is proving no exception and has had to become experienced at handling the attention.

 

Leave a reply