Caitlin Clark has become a household name among basketball fans. The Iowa superstar broke countless records last season en route to being named National Player of the Year and leading the Hawkeyes to the national championship game.
But not many remember the Caitlin Clark who first stepped onto the scene at Iowa. She was a heralded recruit with immense talent, but it took some time for her mental game to get to where it is now.
“Caitlin is the challenge of a lifetime,” assistant coach Jan Jensen told Sports Illustrated for a Daily Cover story on Clark this week. “We’re so fortunate, so blessed, but it’s not easy. … You have to know what to do with that strategy-wise but also culture-wise.”
Former teammate Monika Czinano, who graduated after last season, said that it was “super obvious” from the jump that Clark’s “skill level was off the charts.” But even she could see that there were areas of improvement for the budding superstar.
“There was a lot of growth to be done in the team compartment,” she said. “She’d had to be The Person for so many years that it was apparent that she was going to need to trust us. … That takes time when you’re, like, a child prodigy.”
That mindset led to some growing pains during Clark’s freshman year. Clark is so competitive that she “hates losing,” Jensen says. Her frustration sometimes boiled over to her teammates and into games, leading to the occasional technical foul.
“She’d go off-script so much,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said, adding: “A person like Caitlin, who’s special, you’ve got to let them have a little bit of freedom. But she had to use her talents more judiciously.”
The growth has been palpable. Clark has gone from the nation’s leading scorer as a freshman, to the scoring and assists leader as a sophomore, to racking up the individual awards and making the NCAA title game as a junior.
Clark has said she intends to treat her senior season like it’s her “last year,” but she does have the option to use a fifth year and return in 2024-25. Regardless of when she makes the jump to the WNBA, her legacy at Iowa has been cemented.
“She’s been great for Iowa,” Jensen said. “But I’m telling you, Iowa has been really great for her.”