College Phenoms Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink Set for First Showdown as Pros

‘Caitlin is my girl,’ Brink says. ‘I hope it’s a good game.’

AP/Adam Hunger
From left, Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark and Cameron Brink pose for a photo before the WNBA basketball draft, April 15, 2024, at New York. AP/Adam Hunger

The future of the WNBA will be on full display Friday at Los Angeles when the league’s top two draft picks, Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever and Cameron Brink of the Los Angeles Sparks, face each other for the first time as professionals.

While the two have very different styles of play, they are part of the unprecedented attention the women’s league receives thanks to their popularity. Ms. Clark, the highest-scoring player in the history of men’s and women’s college basketball during her career at Iowa, was the first overall choice by the Fever in the 2024 WNBA Draft. Ms. Brink was selected second overall by the Sparks out of Stanford. Their first pro meeting was moved to Arena, where the Sparks could enjoy their first sellout crowd since 2022, from Long Beach.

“Caitlin is my girl,” Ms. Brink told Inside the Wubble. “We’re really good friends. I have so much respect and admiration for her. I hope it’s a good game.”

The Fever head to Los Angeles looking for their first win of the season after five consecutive losses to start the year. Ms. Clark has averaged 17.8 points per game while scoring at least 20 points in three of the five contests. Her lowest scoring total was nine points in a 102-66 loss to a seasoned New York Liberty team in the second game of the year.

She has shown signs of being a rookie trying to adjust to playing against professionals. She committed 10 turnovers in her WNBA debut and is averaging a league-high 6.5 turnovers a contest. She is shooting a modest 32.6 percent from three-point range. No one should have expected immediate success for Indiana, the youngest team in the league. The Fever is starting from rock bottom in trying to establish chemistry and an identity with little practice time. They are encouraged that their recent two games were close, losing 88-84 in a rematch with Connecticut on Monday and an 85-83 loss at Seattle on Wednesday.

“We’re six points away from being 2-3 instead of 0-5,” Ms. Clark said after scoring 21 points in front of a sellout crowd at Seattle. “We have to find confidence in that and continue to stay positive and motivated.”

The Sparks, meanwhile, earned their first win in three starts on Tuesday, beating the Washington Mystics, 70-68, at Long Beach. Ms. Brink, at 6-foot-4, helped salvage the victory by blocking two potentially game-tying shots in the final seconds. She has averaged just six points and six rebounds through the three games, but the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year has 11 blocked shots, including nine over the last two games.

“Her presence even when she’s not blocking shots is altering shots,” the Sparks coach, Curt Miller, said of Ms. Brink, who had 127 blocked shots in 34 games as a senior.

Ms. Brink averaged 17.8 points a game with a career-high of 29 last year at Stanford, so her scoring will come. “We’ve got to find her more shots,” Mr. Miller said. “She’s unselfish to a fault. Even when she catches the ball, she’s not on a hunt-for-her-own offense type of player. But that will come. Her immediate impact here as she gets accustomed to playing in the league is at the defensive end.”

Ms. Clark, 22, and Ms. Brink, 22, benefit off-the-court from their popularity. Ms. Clark reportedly agreed to a $28 million deal with Nike. This week Wilson Sporting Goods announced it also entered into a multi-year agreement with Ms. Clark and will release signature basketball collections to celebrate Ms. Clark’s continued legacy. In a release, Wilson said it will work with her to develop her first signature basketball line.

“Wilson has been with me across some of the most pivotal moments in my career so far,” Ms. Clark said in a statement issued by Wilson. “I couldn’t be more excited to continue driving basketball forward alongside them.”

Ms. Clark is also a lightning rod for social media critics who suggest she benefits from being white and heterosexual. She dates a former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player, Connor McCaffery.

African-American basketball legends LeBron James and Charles Barkley have come to her defense. Mr. Barkley called those critics “petty,” and offered a reminder that Ms. Clark helped the league get chartered flights for games, wide television exposure, and sellout crowds.

Ms. Brink reportedly has endorsement deals with 21 brands, including Buick, New Balance, and CVS Pharmacy. She is currently part of Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS WNBA underwear campaign and expressed interest in being featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.

On Friday night their focus will be on basketball. Listen to Ms. Clark and it sounds like she wants the ball in her hands more and perhaps to move to point guard from shooting guard. “When I can get the ball in my hands as the one, I think I’m more successful at times,” she said. “The more I can play with more pace is definitely when I’m more successful.”

The New York Sun

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