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Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut created a huge amount of hype

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark, 22, dribbles down the court against the Dallas Wings during the first half of a WNBA basketball game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, May 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark, 22, dribbles against the Dallas Wings during the first half of a WNBA basketball game in Arlington, Texas, on Friday. (Associated Press/Michael Ainsworth)

ARLINGTON, Texas – Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut on Friday was a resounding success on many levels.

First, Clark, 22, the two-time national and three-time Big Ten Conference women’s player of the year, had an impressive debut for the Indiana Fever against the Dallas Wings, scoring 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting (5-of-13 from long range) while adding three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

The Des Moines native and top pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, who has almost single-handedly helped increase the popularity of women’s basketball, also ensured that Friday’s game at College Park Center, on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington, was a sellout and drew 6,251 fans. , many of whom wore Clark gear, much of which sported her Iowa Hawkeyes’ signature black-and-gold.

The enormity of the moment wasn’t too big for her, though, as she took the first part of her post-match comments to the media to thank those who came in person to watch her professional debut.

“The fans, they make women’s basketball so much fun. Its popularity has increased in recent years,” said Clark.

“For them to come support me in my first WNBA game is very special, not only for myself but for both teams on the field. They see how good this product is. You couldn’t ask for a better match as women’s basketball kicks off this year, the first match comes down to the wire and both teams compete. That will be the story of the whole year.”

Although it was a preseason game, Clark, who played just five minutes in the third quarter after picking up her fourth foul, realizes there is plenty to work on despite her successful debut, namely the five turnovers she committed in the match. the 79-76 loss, which came on a last-second 3-pointer by Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale, a perennial WNBA All-Star.

“I think I did pretty well. He definitely could have taken care of the ball a little better,” Clark said. “I think we all could have done better, we had too many turnovers (17). Overall I think I played really hard and executed. I think overall I came in here and played hard. That’s always something to be proud of.”

When she was introduced during the pregame introductions, the ex-Hawkeye superstar received a huge ovation. And when Clark hit her first of five 3-pointers in the first quarter, the crowd was equally ecstatic in what was an electric atmosphere all evening, something they certainly appreciated.

“I think just the atmosphere (that’s what I’ll remember the most),” Clark said. “It is very special to put on your jersey for a real match for the first time. I remember my first game in college very well and know that I will remember my first game in the W very well, whether it is the preseason or our first game in Connecticut. It’s a big milestone for someone who has always dreamed of playing in the WNBA.”

“The crowd was great all night. That’s what you expect at a sale. That will be the same all year round with the crowds. Whether they’re cheering for you or against you, you better get used to it. It’s always just a fun environment to play in.”

Fever teammate Grace Berger knew Clark long before she even joined the Fever, having played against her several times during her collegiate career at Big Ten rival Indiana. And now that Berger, entering her second season in the league, is teammates with the biggest name in women’s basketball, she’s happy to see extra attention being paid to her team.

“I think it’s great not only for our team, but for the WNBA, just to bring more attention to it. I think once we get people to actually watch the WNBA, they’ll keep coming back once they realize what a good product it is,” Berger said.

Ogunbowale’s final three of the night came with three seconds left and the Fever immediately took their final timeout. As the ball automatically advanced to center court, second-year Indiana head coach Christie Sides drew up a play to give Clark the final shot to potentially send the game to overtime. Clark failed from 25 feet, but her new coach has no reservations about calling her number in similar late-game situations in the future.

“She is a player with ice in her veins. That’s who she is, she’s someone who is confident that she’s going to make those shots,” Sides said.

When asked what major differences she immediately noticed between the WNBA and college, Clark immediately mentioned the more physical game and the need to keep focus on every possession.

“It comes down to every asset. When you’re on the field with so much talent, you can’t take a second off,” she said. “You relax for a moment and they’re going to beat you on a screen, whatever it is. You can’t relax for a second in this competition.”

However, when asked if she feels more pressure to succeed as a professional, she replied that it was very appropriate for her calm, cool and collected demeanor.

“Yes, the pressure has always been there, whether I’ve been in college or now that I’m starting my WNBA career. I’m going to go about it pretty much the same way I always do, but just prepare the same way,” Clark said.

Caitlin Clark’s first match as a professional was a truly special night, that rare occurrence in the sporting world where the actual event lived up to the immense hype surrounding it, but many feel it will be the first of many for this supremely talented former. Hawkeye.

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.