Caitlin Clark, woman of the hour, heads to Bloomington next Thursday


Caitlin Clark is an unexpected cultural phenomenon, a 6-foot women’s basketball point guard unexpectedly become a crossover Hollywood-ish red-carpet star out of Iowa because she can shoot the rock with accuracy between two area codes.

What we are witnessing is a confluence of a player, a time and a place in history making the hero-worshipping of a gal bouncing a ball possible.

Also, Clark is coming to Indiana soon – and maybe even long term – so she could become part of the area firmament in the way Taylor Swift became part of the Kansas City Chiefs faithful.

The Cult of Caitlin has grown steadily during her four seasons wearing a University of Iowa uniform while lighting up scoreboards around the Big Ten to the point wherever she plays, all tickets are sold and whatever network televises her games sets viewership records.

Just Thursday night when Iowa defeated Michigan 106-89 in Iowa City, Clark scored 49 points and handed out 13 assists. This was coronation night when her pursuit of the NCAA women’s points records culminated with her surpassing Kelsey Plum’s old mark of 3,527 points. Clark began the game needing eight points to break the record and scored that in 2 minutes, 12 seconds.

This is a plum of a record to grasp for the only player to top 3,000 points and 1,000 assists, but phrasing of the nature of Clark’s accomplishment must be made carefully. She is not yet the leading scorer in women’s major college basketball because for several years, the NCAA ignored the women’s game, previously played under the umbrella of the old Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Lynette Woodard, starring for Kansas between 1977 and 1981, won an Olympic gold medal and even suited up for the Harlem Globetrotters during her Hall of Fame career, still lies ahead at the major college level with 3,649 points. As does Louisiana State’s Pete Maravich in the men’s game, who set his scoring record of 3,667 points in just three seasons. Good company.

Completely overshadowed is Pearl Moore, who played for a junior college briefly and for what is now NCAA Division II Francis Marion of South Carolina. Moore scored more than 4,000 points.

The three-pointer is the specialty of the house on Clark’s menu. The arc is merely a guideline to her. Against Michigan, Clark hit nine three-pointers, and her scoring total gave her the school one-game scoring record by a single point.

“I don’t know if you can script it any better,” Clark said of her game, the Hawkeyes’ game and the arena atmosphere.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said of Clark, “She’s changed the landscape of women’s basketball. She’s incredible, she’s incredible, she’s incredible.”

Broadcasts of Iowa games bring a Caitlin Factor with them. In early February, Fox set a new women’s basketball viewership record for the network with 1,772,000 sets of eyes. The Big Ten Network said a recent Iowa game was the most-watched female sporting event in the outlet’s history.

Plus, the jerseys. Sometimes, it seems it is Halloween every night when the native of West Des Moines plays at home. Thousands of little girls come wearing Caitlin No. 22 Iowa jerseys and seek autographs.

Iowa and Clark are scheduled to meet Indiana University on Feb. 22 at Assembly Hall. IU is the defending Big Ten regular-season champ. Iowa is in first place with Indiana a game behind. That game was sold out seven weeks ahead of time.

It is not as if there have not been legendary women’s basketball players before. Among them, Hall of Famers all, are Woodard and Moore, plus Cheryl Miller, Nancy Lieberman, Luisa Harris, Carol Blazejowski, Anne Donovan, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Teresa Weatherspoon and Tamika Catchings.

Some of them might be wondering where all of the hoopla was for them when they were accomplishing great things. Some starred too soon when women’s basketball was still in the pioneering stage. The TV programming was not there.

Even more significantly, Clark is a beneficiary of the new Name, Image and Likeness rules, perks for college athletes approved by the courts. TV and NIL have created the Cult of Caitlin, who has endorsement deals topping $800,000 from companies like Gatorade, State Farm, Nike and more.

Basketball precedents for off-the-charts identification and widespread exposure of a hot property were established by Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson after they became NBA stars. Now, college stars are professionals through NIL.

Clark is completing her fourth year at Iowa, but again, circumstances combine to offer her choices for her future. Athletes who were playing during COVID-19 gained another year of NCAA eligibility. So she could stay with the Hawkeyes. Or she could turn pro, declaring for the WNBA draft.

The Indiana Fever hold the No. 1 pick for April 15 and would take Clark if she is available. That means she would become a regular fixture in Indiana, boosting attendance and brightening the spotlight on the local pro team.

Ironically, Clark’s boyfriend is Connor McCaffrey, son of Iowa men’s coach Fran McCaffrey, and he works for the Fever. In the interests of long-term romance, Connor could well whisper sweet nothings in her ear, “Fever, Fever, Fever.”

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