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    Sunday, May 26, 2024

    Caitlin Clark eager to enjoy the rest of the ride at Iowa after decision to enter the WNBA draft

    Iowa's Caitlin Clark in action during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

    Iowa City, Iowa — Caitlin Clark knew with Iowa's final regular-season home game looming, it was time to make her decision about whether to enter the WNBA draft or stay in college for a fifth season.

    That's why Clark announced on Thursday that she would go to the WNBA at the end of the season, following four historic seasons with the Hawkeyes. The announcement came three days before the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes host No. 2 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon.

    "I think just going into Senior Night, having that decision clear not only for myself, but our fans, my teammates. I think that was super important," Clark said Friday. "And honestly, just getting the weight of the world off my shoulders and being able to enjoy this last month with my teammates, I think is the biggest thing."

    Clark is nearing the end of a record-setting career with the Hawkeyes. She passed Kelsey Plum as the NCAA career scoring leader on Feb. 15, then passed Lynette Woodard as the career scoring leader in major college women's basketball in Wednesday's game against Minnesota. Clark, who has 3,650 career points, is closing in on Pete Maravich's NCAA career scoring record of 3,667 points.

    Clark had an additional year of eligibility that the NCAA granted to all players who played during the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020-21 season.

    "I would say, like, I've gone honestly back and forth a little bit, especially early in the year," Clark said. "I think as the season played out, it became more clear to me. I know I said at the beginning of the year I definitely just kind of feel in my gut and know in my gut. And I think that's exactly what happened."

    Clark said she has known "for a little while" what she planned to do, adding that the coaching staff has been supportive as she made her decision.

    "I mean, you're obviously disappointed because you want her to come back. Right?" Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I mean, she's a tremendous player, and we would have loved to have had her come back. But also, our job is to help them for four years and to support them as best as we can and try to prepare them for the next chapter in their lives. Her four years are up, even though she could come back for another year. She's ready for a new challenge."

    The Indiana Fever have the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. Clark said she had not spoken with anyone from the Fever since she made her announcement.

    The game Sunday at Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a sellout. A pair of courtside tickets were listed at $3,800 on StubHub on Friday morning.

    Clark, the reigning national player of the year, led the Hawkeyes to the national championship game last season before losing to LSU. The entire home season featured sellout crowds, and few tickets, if any, were available for road games.

    "We've said this before, but when Caitlin's light shines, it shines on all of us," forward Kate Martin said. "What Caitlin is doing individually impacts our entire team, our entire program, our entire state, the entire country. And that's really cool. We want the best for Caitlin, we've always had that in mind. We want her to win all of the awards. We truly, genuinely, are very happy for her."

    Bluder said she thought Clark has been more at ease since she made her decision.

    "Everyone was worried about the record, like, 'Oh, she's stressed out about the record,'" Bluder said, referring to Clark's pursuit of Plum's scoring mark. "She was never stressed out about the record. She was stressed out about making this decision."

    That stress is behind Clark now.

    "I think any time you make a big decision and you're confident in it, that's just kind of what happens," Clark said. "And I think that's my biggest focus going into the rest of the year. It's just smile, have fun, play free. After this game this weekend, we're really only guaranteed two games. So I think it's just enjoying every single second and playing and having fun."

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