Caitlin Clark’s passing flair an overlooked part of Iowa stardom: ‘Pick your poison’

And as it does — as she unleashes every eye-catching 3-pointer and breaks new scoring records — one of her most essential on-court traits goes overlooked.

“It’s funny because obviously she’s the best scorer in college basketball history, [but] the crazy thing is people don’t talk about her passing enough,” Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger said recently. “She’s got phenomenal vision. She sees plays before they happen. She’s thinking two steps ahead.”

Caitlin Clark has been the Big Ten's assist leader for four consecutive seasons.
Caitlin Clark has been the Big Ten’s assist leader for four consecutive seasons.USA TODAY NETWORK
Clark’s eyes are always up, looking to her teammates before she looks at the rim.

She can get her shot off whenever she pleases, so she usually first checks to see who might have a better look.

It is why Iowa ranks first nationally in scoring (92.8 points per game) and assists (21.9), with Clark leading the nation in both individual categories, with 31.8 points and 8.9 assists per game.

It is the second time that Division I’s all-time leading scorer has led the nation in assists, moving Clark up to fourth all-time (1,102), entering the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Clark, who is the only player in a major conference to lead a league in scoring and assists in four straight seasons, is the only player who ranks in the top 25 all-time in scoring and assists.

“That’s so many more additional points she’s creating for her team,” West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg said. “That’s kind of the pick your poison. … Do you try to make her a scorer? Do you try to make her a facilitator? What’s the game plan going to be?”

Of course, Clark does it with unmatched flair.

Caitlin Clark has "phenomenal vision," Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger said.


Caitlin Clark has “phenomenal vision,” Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger said.Getty Images

Caitlin Clark dished out 10 assists in Iowa's win against Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament.
Caitlin Clark dished out 10 assists in Iowa’s win against Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament.USA TODAY NETWORK
Most games feature a full-court touchdown pass, a behind-the-back gem and a laser through traffic.

Sometimes, it backfires, like her six-turnover outing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

She carries the DNA of Brett Favre, a gunslinger with the skill and audacity to believe a pass can fit through a keyhole, to expect teammates to read her mind.

“I think I see the game at such a fast speed, you can almost see something that’s about to happen before it happens,” Clark said. “That’s my style of play. It’s high-risk, high-reward. That’s how I’m gonna play. Coach [Lisa] Bluder lets me do those sorts of things.”

Clark was doing it long before she became college basketball’s biggest star.

The Iowa native was a rising ninth grader, when her soon-to-be Dowling Catholic High School coach Kristin Meyer saw Clark whip a behind-the-back pass for the first time.

Caitlin Clark sits fourth all-time in the NCAA for assists entering their NCAA Tournament game Monday.
Caitlin Clark sits fourth all-time in the NCAA for assists entering their NCAA Tournament game Monday.USA TODAY NETWORK
Meyer told her it was “risky.”

In hopes of not stifling her joy and creativity, the coach came up with the “one-plus” rule.

If Clark successfully completed a behind-the-back pass, Meyer would allow her to throw another.

If it resulted in a turnover, the green light would disappear.

Through four years of high school, Meyer never had to tell her to stop.

“She would’ve kept doing it even if she wasn’t supposed to,” Meyer said. “They were always on the money and at opportune times. Some of them were to showboat, but a lot of them really worked in the situation

“Her style of play really hasn’t changed much since high school. She’s just gotten better at every aspect of the game.”

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