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Long-range: How college basketball player Caitlin Clark aimed for history


Eight points - that is all Iowa Hawkeye Caitlin Clark needs to score tomorrow night against Michigan, and she will be the new women's NCAA all-time scoring leader. Her success is leading to record crowds and ratings for women's basketball. It's dubbed the Caitlin Clark effect. Our co-host Scott Detrow checked out the phenomenon in person recently when Iowa visited the University of Maryland.


SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Sally McGovern (ph) and Karen Sotays (ph) have traveled from Pennsylvania and paid a lot of money to see Caitlin Clark in person.


SALLY MCGOVERN: We got them for - off a student. They were $9 seats, and I think we paid 250 apiece.

KAREN SOTAYS: We didn't care. We didn't care.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We didn't care.

MCGOVERN: And we got a steal.



MCGOVERN: Rock on.

SOTAYS: High five.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on in. Enjoy the game.

MCGOVERN: Thank you.

SOTAYS: Thank you so much.


DETROW: All right, it's before game time. And the arena here in Maryland is already packed. We are standing here courtside watching Caitlin Clark and her teammates warm up. She just drained a three from the corner in warmups. Walking into the arena - and this felt to me like a professional sports playoff game. You had parking lots full. You had people directing traffic. You had people trying to scalp tickets outside. As we walk around before tipoff, we see three women wearing matching hats.

KAREN: It's Caitlin Clark.

MEGAN MCDONALD: It's just Caitlin Clark. It's really why we're here.

DETROW: We can't tell you exactly what they read. The FCC would get annoyed. Something to the effect of Caitlin "Leaping" Clark.

MCDONALD: No, we're all from New York, Philly and Maryland. And so we decided last year, literally, when they made it deep into the playoffs, that we were going to come and see them play.

DETROW: Megan McDonald (ph) and her college lacrosse teammates Karen (ph) and Kristen (ph) got their tickets early enough, they say, with some self-satisfaction, that they avoided all the scalper prices.

Just think about the fact that it's, like, nearly $1,500 for tickets for tonight.

KAREN: Yeah, I love it.


KRISTEN: Absolutely. Give it to the girls.

MCDONALD: Fifteen hundred?


KAREN: Meg, it's the same as the AFC Championship game last weekend.

KRISTEN: No, absolutely. The women are getting the recognition they deserve.

DETROW: And as with many others across the country, Clark first hit their radar during last year's NCAA tournament run, when she led her team to the finals and lost. This is their first time seeing her in person.

MCDONALD: First-timers.

DETROW: What are you most excited to see? Like...

MCDONALD: I want to see her shoot from the logo. I would love like a 50-plus point game, break some records. I know she's like a thousand points or hundred...

KAREN: Yeah.

MCDONALD: ...Points off the record. So whether it's this game or the next game, probably the next game, love to see her break that record.


DETROW: The game gets underway. And on the very first play, Clark hits a three-point.


DETROW: It's Maryland, though, who establishes an early lead, and that energizes the Maryland fans who are trying to drown out all the Iowa and Clark supporters invading their home arena.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Let's go, Terps. Let's go, Terps. Let's go, Terps.

DETROW: Clark has the ball down the court. You just hear her getting booed.


DETROW: Oh, my God.


DETROW: I think that counts as a logo shot. That was what, 10 feet - five, 10 feet past the line?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's, like - that's the eight to 10 feet out. Yeah.

DETROW: Yeah, That was a deep, deep three-point shot.


DETROW: Her third three-pointer of the first quarter.

Clark is facing the same dynamics that superstars often do when they play on the road. The fans are here to see her. Maryland fans are also making a point to boo her. Every time she sets up for a shot in front of the Maryland student section, the crowd taunts her.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting, inaudible).

DETROW: I ask whether all of this affects her approach or her play.

CAITLIN CLARK: Honestly, like, not really. I mean, I take it in everywhere I go. And I think I'm just very grateful.

DETROW: Everywhere she goes, it's sellout after sellout, with all eyes on Clark.

CLARK: It is what it is. It's basketball. You know, one game is not going to make or break our season. And I just find a calming presence in, like, being around my teammates and having fun playing this game.

DETROW: Kristin Meyer was Clark's high school coach at Dowling Catholic in west Des Moines. She says ever since she first saw Clark play as a middle-schooler, she knew Clark was special. Looking for an example, she starts talking about practice.

KRISTEN MEYER: We had to bring in different high school guys who are a little bit stronger, a little bit taller and who could guard her more. You know, she'd score basket, talk a little trash. Or they'd get a stop, and they talk a little trash, all in fun.

DETROW: Clark's competitiveness made headlines last year. She and LSU star, Angel Reese, went back and forth in the NCAA championship, taunting each other. Even with that, longtime WNBA star Maya Moore says she is impressed by Clark's mindset amid all of the hype and attention.

MAYA MOORE: You know, it's not an individual sport where she is individually good. But she's doing all this on a team, which is, I think, even harder to do - right? - to go out and find your place within a group while also becoming the best that you can be.


DETROW: We're courtside now, start of the third quarter. Iowa started off with the ball. And again, they're up 52 to 38. Caitlin Clark has scored little less than half of the team's points so far.


DETROW: And I guess she's gotten about a quarter of the way, at this point, toward that all-time record. She was a little more than a hundred points short - 23 points already in this game.

Clark's scoring pace slows down a bit in the second half...


DETROW: ...And Maryland claws its way back into the game, even taking the lead at a few points. Then Clark starts to hit a groove again. She starts making more three-pointers, and Maryland comes out deep to guard her more closely. So Clark starts finding her teammates with her other signature play - accurate long-range passes, the kind you usually see from football quarterbacks.

JACKIE STILES: She is such a great passer that she's going to find, you know, that teammate for an easy look. You know, if you gear on her too much, but then if you don't, she's going to score.

DETROW: Jackie Stiles knows basketball. She's in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Playing for Southwest Missouri State University in the late '90s and early 2000s, she broke the all-time women's scoring record, then held it for nearly two decades. She's been watching closely this season.

STILES: Oh, man, I have just enjoyed Caitlin Clark's journey.

DETROW: As Clark has marched toward the record, Stiles has thought back on all of the pressure she faced as she tried to break it years ago. Stiles has also reflected on how much more power and self-determination college athletes have now that the NCAA allows them to get a piece of the millions of dollars that college sports generate.

STILES: I was the fourth pick in the WNBA draft. And at that time, we went to a pay scale, and the top four got the highest salary, which was 55,000. You know, so, you know, she's more likely going to make more as a college athlete.

DETROW: These new dynamics will leave Clark with an interesting choice after this season. She can go to the WNBA, where she'd almost certainly be the No. 1 draft pick. Or due to extended eligibility dating back to the lost COVID season, she could play another year at Iowa and maybe earn more money in college than she could as a pro. Mary Jo Kane, a professor at the University of Minnesota, rattles off all of the major companies who already have deals with Clark.

MARY JO KANE: Gatorade and Nike, obviously, in the sports world, but beyond that, H&R Block, Buick, Goldman Sachs. And she is the first ever college athlete, male or female, to sign with the sports marketing behemoth, State Farm. So Caitlinomics (ph) has just been, again, a tsunami of exposure.


DETROW: Against Maryland, Clark and Iowa pulled away in the fourth quarter and end up with what looks on the scoreboard, at least, like an easy win.

Late in the night, Iowa fans huddle in the cold in the parking lot outside the arena, hoping for a glimpse of Clark as she and the Hawkeyes leave on the bus. Walking through the crowd, I see little kids - girls and boys - pressed against the barrier, holding signs with Clark's name on it, cheering - Caitlin, Caitlin. These crowds will be watching as Clark's career continues into the upcoming NCAA tournament and whatever comes next. Scott Detrow, NPR News. College Park, Md.

(SOUNDBITE OF SURVIVOR SONG, "EYE OF THE TIGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.

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