It Would Be Foolish To Keep Caitlin Clark Off Team USA at Paris

The hoop phenom’s prolific scoring and appeal can’t be left out of the Olympics.

AP/Cliff Jette
Caitlin Clark celebrates after becoming the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball, March 3, 2024, at Iowa City. AP/Cliff Jette

A silly notion is circulating that Caitlin Clark might somehow not be part of Team USA when it competes for the gold medal in women’s basketball at the upcoming Olympic Games at Paris.

The 12-player team is expected to be announced on June 1, and there’s speculation Ms. Clark isn’t a lock to be part of the coveted squad because she hasn’t participated in a senior team training camp and lacks proven WNBA experience. Hogwash.

It would be foolish not to have Ms. Clark on the Olympic team. The first overall pick in the recent WNBA draft is the face of women’s basketball right now and raising the profile of the entire women’s game. Any suggestion Ms. Clark hasn’t “paid her dues” is ridiculous. Her resume is already unprecedented.

Now a member of the Indiana Fever, she leaves Iowa as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division 1 basketball, regardless of gender. She also broke Steph Curry’s NCAA record for most 3-pointers in a single season, and she’s the first Division 1 player to record 3,600-plus points, 1,000 assists, and 850-plus rebounds in a career.

Due to the hype around Ms. Clark and South Carolina’s unbeaten season, the Women’s NCAA National Championship Game drew a record average of 18.7 million viewers while peaking at 24 million. That crushed the men’s final between UConn and Purdue, which averaged 14.8 million. It was the third time in a week the NCAA women’s tournament broke a record for its largest television audience.

Team USA isn’t about to ignore Ms. Clark’s prolific scoring and television appeal when drafting its roster for Paris, where the Americans are seeking their eighth consecutive gold medal and 10th overall.

Ms. Clark also has a good excuse for not attending the pre-Olympic training camp at Cleveland. It came during the weekend Iowa played in the NCAA Women’s Final Four. As for her lack of WNBA experience, she dropped 21 points in the Fever’s preseason debut, a 79-76 loss at Dallas Saturday. Indiana closes out its preseason Thursday night against the Atlanta Dream and opens its regular season on May 14 against the Connecticut Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena. That game will stream on Disney+, ESPN+, and ESPN2.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clark’s impact continues to reverberate throughout the WNBA. The Los Angeles Sparks announced this week that Ms. Clark’s first WNBA game at Los Angeles on May 24 is one of three games being moved to the 19,000-seat Arena from the 5,000-seat Walter Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus.

The Sparks, who drafted Stanford’s star, Cameron Brink, with the second overall pick, initially scheduled games at Long Beach due to construction at Arena. Los Angeles now wants to take advantage of the interest in Ms. Clark, Ms. Brink, and the WNBA. The Sparks games against Dallas, May 26, and Minnesota, June 5, are also being moved to the Arena.

”Women’s basketball is experiencing unprecedented viewership and attendance numbers,” the Sparks president, Christine Monjer, said in a team release. “So moving these games back to Arena provides us the ability to have more fans in the stands and have our players back to competing on their home floor.”

Also, the WNBA announced plans to fund charter flights for all of the league’s teams after the social media backlash following reports of Ms. Clark and the Indiana Fever team traveling commercial for their preseason game at Dallas. The league commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, said the move will cost the WNBA about $25 million annually. The league already agreed to pay for charter flights during the playoffs and back-to-back games during the regular season. The WNBA spent $4 million providing charter flights last year.

Meanwhile, an Indy Star columnist, Gregg Doyel, is expected to return to work on May 13 after a brief suspension for an unprofessional exchange with Ms. Clark during her introductory press conference in Indiana. Mr. Doyel opened his questioning of Ms. Clark by displaying his hands in the shape of her popular heart gesture. When Ms. Clark explained her hand signal is for her family, Mr. Doyel said, “Start doing it with me and we’ll get along just fine.”

A father of two, Mr. Doyel offered an apology but will not cover Fever games this summer, though he can still write about the team.

The New York Sun

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