UConn's Legendary Coach Shares Why Former NIL Star Caitlin Clark is Struggling

It hasn't quite been the transition that everyone expected for Caitlin Clark, but UConn's legendary basketball coach gives his thoughts on why that is.
Jun 2, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA;  Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) walks back to the bench in the third quarter against the New York Liberty at Barclays Center
Jun 2, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) walks back to the bench in the third quarter against the New York Liberty at Barclays Center / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The WNBA is currently exploding in terms of how their league is covered on a national scale, their growth in audience at arenas, and viewership on television.

One of the main reasons is because former Iowa Hawkeyes superstar and top NIL earner, Caitlin Clark, turned professional and was taken No. 1 overall in this past draft.

Coming off a national championship loss in 2023, Clark was the face of women's college basketball, maybe even all of college athletics, during her senior year last season.

Not only was she constantly putting up video game-like numbers as she scored the most career points in Division 1 history (3,951) and had the most made three-pointers (548), she also set the highest career scoring average with 28.42 points per game.

Her run continued to capture the attention of people everywhere as she once again got Iowa to the national championship game before losing for the second consecutive year.

However, things have not been a seamless transition for Clark at the WNBA level.

Through 11 games, the Indiana Fever have a 2-9 record after they were projected to be around the .500 mark. She also isn't putting up the numbers like she did at Iowa as she's averaging 15.6 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game on 35.7 percent shooting from the field and 29.7 percent from behind the arc.

The former top NIL earner during her time in college received a ton of hype coming into the season, and it seems like many of the current WNBA stars are eager to knock her down a peg.

This was evident when Chennedy Carter of the Chicago Sky purposefully ran into Clark when the ball wasn't in play, knocking the superstar to the floor in what caused a firestorm of discourse surrounding what has taken place for Clark during her rookie season.

Some of the animosity directed at her might stem from her $3.4 million NIL valuation during college and the $28 million endorsement deal upon turning pro she signed with Nike that includes a signature shoe.

With everyone weighing in on the Clark-Carter saga, UConn's legendary women's basketball coach, Geno Auriemma was asked about his perspective on "The Dan Patrick Show."

"If you're a great college player like Caitlin was, the delusion fanbase that follows her disrespected the WNBA players by saying 'she's gonna go in that league and tear it apart' ... so the kid was set up for failure right from the beginning," he said.

It seems clear that the players who have been in the league for a while feel a certain way about Clark, the attention she's gotten, how she's perceived to be the savior of women's basketball, or a combination of all three.

Auriemma continued on with his assessment.

"This kid's on the wrong team, she's got the wrong skill set to handle the physicality of that league, and she's a rookie. And if you're a WNBA player, if you're any kind of player, you're gonna say 'I'm gonna make a statement.'"

He expounded a little further on the eye-catching declaration he made when he asserted that Clark i being "targeted."

"Targeted by society, targeted by her looks, targeted by her reputation, targeted by the disrespect they've shown to the WNBA. There's a huge target on this kid's back," he added.

It sounds like Auriemma thinks the former NIL superstar might have just been a college sensation and that she won't be able to translate to the WNBA game, despite already becoming the fastest player in league history to hit 100 points and 50 assists for her career when she hit those marks in eight games.

However, he does believe she'll be able to adjust to the physicality that the professional game has, and when that happens, he thinks Clark will be able to meet some of the lofty expectations placed on her.

"She's just not built for the physicality of this league. And she's not quick enough to get away from the physicality. So there’s a lot of learning curve, like Diana [Taurasi] said. And when she gets it, she has elite skills that are gonna really help her. But she needs to be on a better team and she needs to be more experienced. And that will come."

It's quite an assessment from Auriemma who is largely considered the greatest women's basketball coach in college history.

He's seen a lot of great players come through the ranks, and he's coached a lot of them, many of whom are still playing in the WNBA right now.

Brad Wakai