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As Caitlin Clark’s stardom explodes, her former coach looks on — as a fan
When Kristin Meyer watches Caitlin Clark these days, she does so as a fan.
'I was watching the last game with a couple of teachers, and there were five or six times Caitlin caught the ball before half-court, and I told them, ‘She's gonna shoot,'” said Meyer, the girls' basketball coach at West Des Moines Dowling High School.
'Sure enough, she did.”
The scope of Clark's stardom has expanded, well beyond West Des Moines, far beyond Iowa. The freshman guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes has become an 'it girl” in women's basketball.
From Sue Bird: 'To me, she's the most exciting player in women's college basketball right now.”
From Dan Patrick: 'If you haven't seen Caitlin Clark, do yourself a favor, and watch her in the Sweet 16.”
The Hawkeyes (20-9) face top-ranked Connecticut (26-1) in a regional semifinal at noon Saturday (ABC). It's a matchup of the top two freshmen in the country - Clark and UConn's Paige Bueckers.
'It's not Caitlin vs. Paige. It's Iowa vs. UConn,” Clark said. 'It will be a great opportunity.
'I'm happy we've made it to the Sweet 16. We're going to prepare like always. If we play defense like we did (in Tuesday's second-round win over Kentucky), we'll be just fine.”
Yes, Clark was a five-star recruit out of Dowling, listed as high as No. 4 among this year's freshman class. But who could have possibly seen this coming?
'I definitely didn't expect Caitlin to lead the nation in scoring,” said Meyer, who coached Clark for four seasons at Dowling. 'I was predicting 22, maybe 23 points per game, maybe in the top three in the Big Ten in scoring.
'But I didn't expect this kind of percentage this early in her career.”
Clark leads the nation in scoring at 26.7 points per game, shooting 47.0 percent from the floor, 40.6 percent from long distance and 86.0 percent from the free-throw line.
She's so much more than just a scorer, ranking No. 2 nationally in assists (7.2 per game) and piloting an offense that scores at an 86-point clip.
If there was a knock on Clark in high school, it was her on-court body language.
'At times, she would get frustrated, and she would let it show,” Meyer said. 'I think the slower pace frustrated her, and sometimes the officiating frustrated her.
'Now she's playing with all Division-I players, Her teammates are 3-point threats, so teams can't throw two or three kids at her. The officiating is better.”
And the Clark you figured would be sullen and serious is anything but.
'I think she's having a blast, having fun,” Bluder said. 'She's the goofiest kid, the loudest in the locker room. She loves to have fun.
'I'm glad to see that in her play right now. You don't have to be serious all the time. I want her to have fun, to have joy. She's playing with that joy right now.”
According to Meyer, very little gets past Clark on the court.
'She's so observant,” Meyer said. 'She can tell if somebody is playing on a sprained ankle. She knows if somebody in the third row drops a piece of popcorn.”
Meyer has caught all 29 of the Hawkeyes' games on TV, whether live or tape-delayed. Instead of watching all 10 players, as a coach, she fixes her attention on her former star.
'I text her before each game, wishing her good luck,” Meyer said. 'It's not my place to coach her anymore. It's nice to watch her as a fan.”
The Hawkeyes will be considerable underdogs when they tackle UConn. But it's unlikely that Clark will shrink from the moment.
'She lives for these kinds of experiences,” Bluder said.
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