Caitlin Clark Is Outplaying the Hype

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Caitlin Clark is probably the best college basketball player I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, I’m too young for Lew Alcindor or Christian Laettner, a bit too jaded to give the crown to a one-and-done like Carmelo or Zion, and more smitten with Clark’s game than Candace Parker or Breanna Stewart’s. So I feel comfortable saying that nobody has grabbed my attention on the collegiate level in the same way that Clark has.

The remarkable thing about that, though, is that it was expected. The burden of expectation has squashed dozens of weaker-minded athletes before, whereas Clark seems to very obviously thrive on it. How else can you explain staring down the defending champion LSU Tigers—who were arguably more talented this year than last, when they beat Clark and her Iowa Hawkeyes in the national championship—and dropping 41 points, 12 assists, and the indelible image of the NCAA Tournament? That came when Clark splashed one of her nine threes of the night and caused helpless defender Hailey Van Lith to hit the What do y’all expect me to do with this? shrug. In the face of all the ad campaigns, all the digital ink that’s been spilled about Clark, it would have been totally understandable for her top-heavy Iowa team to flame out in the Elite Eight. Instead, Clark made her opponent completely break.

When watching Clark, the only apt comparison that really springs to mind is Steph Curry—who, ahem, quite literally revolutionized basketball. Clark is a clear descendant of Curry in the sense that she fearlessly shoots from anywhere on the court when not dispersing assists through passing lanes that are only visible to her. It is both breathtaking and confounding. How does she keep doing this night after night?

And, with all due respect to Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall, and the rest of Clark’s teammates, they aren’t on the same level as Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Steph had Hall of Famers to unload some of the weight, whereas Clark is carrying the entire state of Iowa on her shoulders. It’s astounding that (Kim Mulkey, do not read this) everyone knows Clark is the center of Iowa’s offensive universe and she’s still able to get her shit off. She is death, she is taxes, she is completely inevitable.

Clark letting the moment sink in on Monday night

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Albany Regional

Clark letting the moment sink in on Monday night
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While LSU’s deeply confusing game plan drew a lot of snark on Twitter—maybe just like, one double team next time—give credit to Clark for playing the game of her life in the most anticipated women’s game we’ve maybe ever seen. Lots of people would shrink, but not the pride of West Des Moines, who cashed in her first three-point attempt of the evening and never looked back, scoring or assisting on 71% of her team’s total points. Whether you agree with the Biggest Women’s Game Ever label, it unquestionably had to be the biggest thing to hit Albany, New York since the Hudson Railway. Nobody who witnessed the event in person—including noted hoop head Jason Sudeikis—will soon forget the spectacle of Caitlin Clark cooking LSU one year after they beat her for the 2023 chip.

Hype is a funny thing, and it’s not going anywhere now that the Hawkeyes have advanced to the Final Four. (By the way, the number of Final Fours that Iowa’s women’s program had participated in before Clark enrolled at the school? One. They are now on their way to their second in two years.) Everyone knows that Clark is the best, and that she will be the first overall pick in the WNBA draft this spring, but still nobody can stop her. Even UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, a titan of women’s basketball, had to hand it to Clark.

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“I love her…I think she’s the best player of all time,” Auriemma said (admittedly, somewhat tongue-in-cheekily) after guiding his squad to a win on Monday, setting them up for a must-see showdown with Clark on Friday night. This, coming from a man who coached Stewart, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and a score of other pantheon-level players, is extremely high praise.

The remarkable thing is that we’re even having the GOAT convo at all. But if Clark manages to take down the institution that is UConn, and then (most likely) the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks, we won’t even need to entertain this conversation anymore. Watching someone embrace the moment, the buzz, the sky-high expectations, is one of the best things sports has to offer. It’s also what Caitlin Clark has been doing all year. There’s no reason to expect her to stop now.

Originally Appeared on GQ