Caitlin Clark is saving women’s basketball

Caitlin Clark is expected to be the first pick in the 2024 WNBA draft on 15 April

Amber Raiken
New York
Sunday 07 April 2024 20:57 BST
Related: Caitlin Clark Dominates in Iowa’s Tight Game Against LSU

In the midst of women’s basketball season, one college student has gone on to shape the face of the sport: Caitlin Clark.

The 22-year-old student is a basketball player for the University of Iowa’s Hawkeyes, where she’s reached some impressive milestones as an athlete and received multiple awards for her skills on the court, including the Women’s Basketball Superstar and National Player of the Year.

As she’s now regarded as one of the most successful players in the women’s NCAA, it’s also no surprise that she’s increased viewership of college sports, including during March Madness. She’s also accumulated some famous fans in the stands, such as Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis.

As her college basketball career is coming to a close this year, Clark recently revealed that she’ll be entering the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) draft, with draft day set for 15 April.

Here’s everything to know about Caitlin Clark, from where she was raised to how her achievements have shaped the world of women’s sports.

Who is Caitlin Clark and where is she from?

Caitlin Clark was born on 22 January 2002, in Des Moines, Iowa, and she grew up in West Des Moines. She’s currently a senior at the University of Iowa, where she majors in marketing, as noted on the university’s athletic department’s website.

Her rise to fame came after she broke impressive records in basketball history. She’s the only player in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s or Women’s basketball to “lead her conference in scoring and assists in four consecutive seasons,” as noted by her official profile on University of Iowa’s website.

Along with being the NCAA all-time leading scorer, Clark is also the first D1 player to “record 3,700+ points, 1,000+ assists, and 850+ rebounds in a career”. When the Hawkeyes won the 2023 Gulf Coast Showcase this past November, Clark was named the Tournament MVP.

As she’s wrapping up her final season with the Iowa Hawkeyes, Clark recently revealed that she’ll be entering the 2024 WNBA Draft. “It is impossible to fully express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me during my time at Iowa,” she wrote in a post shared to Instagram in February. “My teammates, who made the last four years the best; my coaches, trainers, and staff who always let me be me; Hawkeye fans who filled Carver every night; and everyone who came out to support us across the country, especially young kids.”

How much is she reportedly making?

While college students aren’t paid by the NCAA for playing basketball, they can still gain money from their own success as student athletes. More specifically, NIL (which stands for “name, image, and likeness”) deals allow college athletes to partner with companies and promote products.

According to ON3, Clark’s NIL deals are worth a combined estimate of $3.1bn. Some of her recent partnerships have been with popular brands, such as Nike, Gatorade, State Farm, and Buick.

Although the WNBA draft isn’t until 15 April, Clark is expected to be the first overall pick, specifically for the Indiana Fever, as reported by Sports Illustrated. While her potential salary in the WNBA is undetermined, rookies’ salaries during their first year range from $65,154 to $76,535, according to Spotrac.

How is she impacting women’s basketball?

(Getty Images)

Throughout Clark’s senior year at the University of Iowa, there’s been an increase of viewers tuning in for the games. As noted by the NCAA, the 2023 national championship game, which saw the Hawkeyes play against LSU’s Tigers, had an average of nearly 10 million viewers, which was a 103 per cent increase from the 2022 women’s championship.

Iowa’s games have been shown on multiple sports networks this season, including ESPN, Fox, and NBC. NCAA also reported that when one of Hawkeye’s games went into overtime, before Ohio State’s loss, there were an average of 1.93m viewers watching the game across NBC and Peacock. In addition, the game saw a peak in viewership during overtime, with 3.9m viewers across those networks.

During the Hawkeye’s Elite Eight game against LSU on 1 April, the team also saw a famous fan was in the stands: Jason Sudeikis. While watching the game, which Iowa won, the A-lister even made the “you can’t see me” gesture, during which he held up his hand and waved the back of it at the crowd. His movement appeared to be in support of Clark, as Tigers star Angel Reese went viral when she made the gesture in front of Clark during last year’s National Championship, which LSU won against University of Iowa.

The Iowa star’s deep range has expanded the scope of possibilities for up-and-coming women’s basketball players, much the way NBA star Stephen Curry changed the men’s game more than a decade ago.

Speaking to the Associated Press earlier this month, Shay Ijiwoye, one of Arizona’s top high school players and a Stanford commit, described the impact that Clark has had on sports.

“Guys will say the game is not as fun to watch, but Caitlin Clark is fun to watch,” Ijiwoye said. “I think she’s inspiring a lot of young kids my age, older, younger, that you can have that confidence and do it just as well as any guy could.”

Why did basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes apologise to Clark?

Amid her success in the college sports world, Clark was also hit with criticism from a former basketball legend, Sheryl Swoopes. In January, Swoopes made a remark about Clark’s success, before the Hawkeyes star became NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.

“If Kelsey Plum set that record in four years, well, Caitlin should’ve broke that record in four years,” Swoopes alleged during an appearance on the “Gil’s Arena” YouTube show. Her comment came while she incorrectly claimed that Clark was in her fifth season at Iowa, as she’s actually in her fourth.

Swoopes continued: “But because there’s a Covid year, and then there’s another year, you know what I mean? So she’s already had an extra year to break that record. So, is it truly a broken record? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But yeah, that’ll go in the record books. And, I don’t think it should be.”

One month later, Swoopes revealed that she contacted Clark and apologised for her previous comments. “A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to (LSU forward Angel Reese) and had a really good conversation with Angel over the phone and sent a message to Caitlin. She responded. She and I went back and forth,” she said while broadcasting for the Baylor-Texas Tech game, via The Athletic.

While the former basketball player wouldn’t go into details about her talk with Clark, Swoopes did express how much she respects the 22-year-old athlete.

“I won’t share what she said, I’ll leave that to her if she wants to share. But I will say, what I said to her was: ‘I made a mistake in saying it was your fifth year when it is your fourth,’” Swoopes continued. “I have nothing but respect for what she has done for the game. If she wants to share what her response was and how that conversation went, I’ll leave that to her. But it was a really good conversation.”

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