116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Call it a 22-minute conversation with No. 22.
The whirlwind of March — the All-American honors, the national exposure, the big numbers — that’s all behind now for Caitlin Clark, who led the nation in scoring and helped guide the University of Iowa women’s basketball team to the Sweet 16.
Clark and the Hawkeyes certainly exceeded expectations last season. The product of West Des Moines Dowling averaged more than 26 points and seven assists per game as the Hawkeyes went 20-10.
Expectations will be much, much higher in 2021-22, when the Hawkeyes, who return about 97 percent of their scoring, figure to be a preseason top-10 team.
They are expectations that Clark embraces. Long before she stepped foot on campus, she dared to utter the phrase “Final Four.” And she’s not backing down from that now.
The following is the transcript of a phone conversation with Clark on Friday afternoon.
Q: Now that we’re almost a month removed from the season, when you see it in your rearview mirror, what do you see?
CC: “I think it was super memorable. It was a learning experience. How young we were, and the fact that a lot of us hadn’t played together, we were able to put the pieces together at the end. I think we knew something good was coming, and the run at the Big Ten tournament was fun. The NCAA gave us a taste of what success was like.”
Q: Coming in as a freshman, what were your expectations for yourself and the team?
CC: “I set high goals for myself. I always do. I never dreamed I would be the leading scorer in the NCAA. I knew we would surprise some people. Then we beat Iowa State, and it was apparent that we could be pretty good.”
Q: The (NCAA tournament Sweet 16) loss to UConn. You were within single digits in the fourth quarter (before losing 92-72). Did that prove that you belonged and could compete with the top teams?
CC: “Totally. I don’t think the final score indicated how close we really were. We had a 3-pointer that rimmed out that would have gotten us within five. It proved we could be right there with the best. There are so many areas in which we can get better. And it will give our team confidence moving forward.”
Q: What was your highest high and lowest low from your freshman season?
CC: “The low point was that stretch in which we’d win one, lose one, win one, lose one (early in the Big Ten season). That was hard. All of those losses were close.
“The highest high was probably right after the Indiana loss (85-72, at home Feb. 7). We changed some things up. For me it was shot selection. I was taking too many shots. We went to Nebraska, and I had one of my best games of the year (39 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists in an 88-81 win).”
Q: You’re a scorer, obviously. But as a point guard, your role also is to get everybody involved. How do you balance that?
CC: “More than anything, I want to get others involved early. If we can get everybody else going, there’s not as much attention on me. It’s really nice having somebody like Monika (Czinano) inside. She’s somebody I can turn to, and that’s a lot of the reason my assist numbers are so high.
“Then we’ve got McKenna (Warnock) and Gabbie (Marshall) that can shoot. Kate (Martin) has so much toughness. We’re all still learning. There are some big areas of improvement that can be made.”
Q: Another question about balance, between confidence and humility. How do you manage that?
CC: "Confidence ... that’s what makes me who I am. I’ve had confidence my whole life, that swag. I’ve played against boys my whole life, so I’ve got to have confidence to compete with them.
“On the other hand, you have to be team-oriented to win. And none of what happened to me this year would be possible without my teammates. The awards, the attention ... that’s about the team, not me.”
Q: By the end of the season, especially in the NCAA tournament, you became somewhat of a national phenomenon. Was that exciting? Exhausting?
CC: “I wouldn’t say it was exhausting. It was fun. It made for some good memories. The experience at the NCAA with Paige (Bueckers of Connecticut), that was super cool. But I had to take a step back. I deleted my social media for a while.”
Q: There’s some talk now about giving women the same option as the men, to allow them access to early arrival to the WNBA. If that was to happen, would you consider declaring for the Draft early?
CC: “I’m definitely committed to three more years here. Going to the Draft early, it’s not an option now, and I don’t think it will be during my time here. I’m super excited about the next three years here. I haven’t gotten to play in front of a packed Carver. That’s a major reason I came here. There’s a lot more here to be done.”
Q: Whose team will enter next season with more hype, yours or Blake’s?
(Note: Clark’s older brother Blake Clark is a backup quarterback and holder for the Iowa State football team, which — like the Iowa women’s basketball squad — will enter the season highly ranked by virtually everyone)
CC: That’s a good question. It’s probably about a tie. Jack Trice (Stadium in Ames) is going to be crazy this fall. Football’s a little different; women’s basketball is a little more laid-back (in terms of hype). I see some scenarios have Iowa State in the (College Football Playoff). It’s going to be fun to see how it pans out for them.“
Q: How will your team handle the expectations, the hype?
CC: “I don’t think it will be any different in the locker room. We won’t get caught up in it. Next year will be like last year; we’ll want to win every game we play. There’s going to be a lot of hype, and that’s what I want. I want people to be excited about Iowa women’s basketball.”
Q: What do you see in next year’s freshman class?
CC: “I’m excited about it. We have a lot of size coming in (with 6-foot-3 Addison O’Grady and 6-3 A.J. Ediger). Addison can stretch the floor, and can play the 4 or 5. Sydney (Affolter) played for (All-Iowa) Attack, so I know her pretty well. They’re all great people and great basketball players. Bringing them in will make our practices even more competitive.”
Q: Of all the honors and comparisons you received last year, what stuck with you the most?
CC: “All of it was pretty cool , but you don’t try to get caught up in it. The things that Sue Bird said (’To me, she’s the most exciting player in college basketball right now. Oh, Iowa’s on? Let me turn this on’), that was very special. She was somebody I watched and modeled my game after.
“Sue is one of the best players ever in the WNBA, and to get her attention, it makes you want to get better and better.”
Q: Who are your basketball idols?
CC: “Growing up, I really liked Harrison Barnes. He was an Iowa kid. I had his (North Carolina) jersey. Maya Moore, she could score the basketball. And of course, Sue Bird is pretty special.”
Q: Where does your game go from here? How does it grow?
CC: “Defense is at the top of the list. That goes for me, and the whole team. I need to get stronger and quicker and take defense more seriously. If we want to be great, we’ve got to be great on both ends of the floor.
“I’ve got to cut down on my turnovers. I’m a risk-taker, that’s who I am. It’s not like I’m just getting the ball picked from me. I just need to be a little smarter and a little safer sometimes.
“I came here for a reason. I want to go to the Final Four. I want to win a national championship. It’s going to be a process. It’s not something that’s going to come easy, but it’s something I take very seriously.”