Driven With Confidence: How Caitlin Clark Became A Hawkeye
There are plenty of words to describe Iowa women’s basketball commit Caitlin Clark.
“You could say that Caitlin Clark is selfish, you could say she gets mad, or has an edge to her — whatever terms you want to use — but those terms are used by opponents, because flat-out, she’s beating them,” All Iowa Attack coach Dickson Jensen said.
That aura of dominance, a moxie Iowa coach Lisa Bluder likened to former Hawkeye guard Sam Logic, has followed Clark from a young age, before she was averaging more than 30 points per game as a senior for Dowling Catholic.
Clark grew up playing sports with her older brothers in her backyard and eventually tore up the court in elementary school as the only girl on an all-boys’ team.
“I heard second-hand from the director of an AAU tournament that a parent from another team we had beaten complained to the director, saying, ‘Hey, girls shouldn’t be allowed to play in our boys’ tournament,’” Clark’s father Brent said. “That right there, that sort of tells you if an opposing player’s parent is that frustrated to go out of her way to bring that up, that maybe speaks to her ability.”
Playing as one of the few (if only) girls in boys leagues stemmed out of necessity, according to Clark’s father. There just wasn’t that many opportunities at such a young age, especially considering just how dominant Clark was in her own class.
As she got older, though, her parents moved her onto girls’ teams, and that’s when colleges started to take notice, as early as seventh and eighth grade.
That’s when Iowa got involved, too.
“The bar is Connecticut,” Iowa assistant coach Jan Jensen said. “If they’re UConn good, it’s a whole different ball game. You look at her, and you’re like, ‘I’m pretty sure she’s going to be UConn good.’ You just know you’re in for a long ride, if you choose to play.”
Jensen had a hand in recruiting Clark from the beginning, but she (as well as all other coaches) had to communicate through the parents; they didn’t want middle-school Clark to be overwhelmed.
Once she got out of junior high, that changed, and Clark fielded the attention of countless teams from across the country.
Jan Jensen said when she and Bluder would attend games, they were never alone, and rightfully so; nearly every program wanted to land the nation’s confident No. 2 point guard.
“I wanted to give everyone a fair chance,” Clark said. “As the recruiting process goes on, some schools weed themselves out. You find schools that are a better fit, more like you.”
Some schools nearly suffocated Clark and her family with attention, but that wasn’t the case with Iowa.
“They were very respectful of that,” Brent Clark said. “They always made a point to ask, ‘Are we not calling enough, are we not doing enough?’ I always felt that they did their stuff right.”
Clark took a few visits to Iowa City, with her first coming in 2016 on the weekend Iowa toppled No. 2 Michigan in football on a last-second field goal.
“It was a pretty memorable visit. I just really loved it,” Clark said. “The coaches are genuine, down-to-earth people. All the girls are really nice and outgoing. That’s just the people I want to be around. You want to surround yourself with people like you.”
In her visits with Iowa, there was one moment in particular that stood out to Clark.
When attending a practice, Kathleen Doyle sat out with injury. Together, the two sat on the sidelines, and Clark picked her brain.
“I literally sat for a whole two-hour practice and just talked to her,” Clark said. “It was great to get her perspective on everything and talk to her and see what she likes. That was very helpful.”
Doyle was able to give Clark honest answers to her questions, something she, as well as any recruit in her shoes, appreciated.
“I think sometimes the peers, the kids that are there now on the team, make more of an impact than what comes out of our mouths,” Bluder said. “They’re living it. They’re actually in those practices. They’re in that locker room day to day. I think when your players speak, it’s volumes.”
Clark’s final three programs were Notre Dame, Iowa State, and Iowa, but on Nov. 12, 2019, she made it official, committing to play for the Hawkeyes.
It was a tough decision according to Clark, as she had built great connections with each program along the way. But Iowa was the right fit, both in terms of up-tempo offense and player development.
“I think their play style is really good,” Clark said. “What Coach Bluder has done with point guards is obviously very promising, along with their development of players in general. I want to go to the next level, and seeing that is really encouraging. I think playing for your home state is always special.”
Timing, Clark pointed out, was another factor in her decision.
It’s perfect, really, as Doyle was selected by the Indiana Fever in the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft. With the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year gone, Bluder hands the keys to Clark.
“That’s my vision. I know she’s just a freshman, but if any freshman can handle it, she can,” Bluder said.
And Clark’s ready for it. She embraces the spotlight.
“She’s really grown in her awareness of the impact she can have,” Dowling Catholic girls’ basketball coach Kristin Meyer said. “She knows she’s got a lot of eyes on her, and she’s very conscious of trying to be a good person, a good teammate, and a good role model to younger players.”
In terms of her skillset, though, Clark has it all. Averaging more than 30 points per game on nearly 40% 3-point shooting during her senior year with Dowling Catholic, Clark headlines a stacked recruiting class for Bluder.
The Hawkeyes boast the 15th-best class in the country, according to ESPN. Iowa has commitments from Clark, Sharon Goodman, Lauren Jensen, and Shateah Wetering. It’s a class that holds “the pieces to the puzzle,” according to Bluder.
Those four join the likes of Monika Czinano, McKenna Warnock, and Alexis Sevillian on a rock-solid Iowa roster.
The potential is certainly there, and Clark, who remains ever-so-confident, has lofty expectations.
“I have goals for a Final Four,” she said. “I have big hopes and dreams, which I think any person should if you’re playing basketball with them. Who wouldn’t want to win and be the best?”
You can follow Adam Hensley on Twitter @A_Hens83