The Transformation Of Basketball Star Caitlin Clark

Once in a generation, an athlete comes around and sweeps everyone off their feet. Caitlin Clark is the star turning heads on and off the court ahead of the WNBA 2024 season, and the proof is in the sales. Clark's entry into the league has already triggered an increase in advance tickets, and her jersey has the highest demand of any player.

So, what is it about Clark that draws the masses? According to a conversation she had with "Good Morning America," her secret ingredient is her passion for the game. "I think it's just the style of basketball that I play," Clark speculated. "But also, I think people like love the fire and the emotion that I have, and like the smile I always have on my face."

From being a prodigal youngster to becoming AP's women's college basketball player of the year, there's no doubt that Clark still has a lot of surprises up her sleeve as a pro. But it has been the record-breaking athlete's evolution as a person and a player that has brought her so far.

Caitlin Clark played with boys' teams in her childhood

Born in 2002 to mother Anne Nizzi-Clark and father Brent Clark — who was a basketball player himself at Simpson College in the '80s — Caitlin Clark grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. When she first picked up basketball at the age of 5, there were no girls' teams she could join at her advanced level. Her parents instead enrolled her in boys' teams until she was in the sixth grade. This move ultimately helped shape her on-court mannerisms, as her father told Fox. When asked what qualities have remained in Caitlin's playing from this time, Brent replied, "I would say just the competitiveness, the assertiveness, she's very creative, had to be at a young age."

Caitlin has kept in touch with her male teammates, some of whom have admitted to her that she was still the better player, as she shared in an interview with ESPN. The basketball star explained to the outlet that her confidence on the court was also nurtured at home by her two brothers, Blake and Colin Clark, both of whom have played college football and high school basketball respectively.

Having this male energy around her was in no way disheartening. "I was always around, you know, boys that pushed me and wanted to play sports, and, yeah, I think it was super special in my development," Caitlin reflected. "It was never something that ever fazed me. It was just like, you know, I'm a girl, I can hold my own.

She confronted a bully at 5 years old

Even as a child, Caitlin Clark wasn't afraid to dominate her opponents. In an interview with Hawk Fanatic, her grandfather, Bob Nizzi, recounted that when she was only 5, Clark had a rough time during a game with another player on the court. "They were playing and there was a particularly large young man and rather aggressive that was about to position and out-strength Caitlin and sometimes to the point where he was really taking advantage of the little girl," Nizzi recalled. 

A sobbing Caitlin was benched by her father and then-coach, Brent Clark. "Her father sat her down and then he said, 'When you're ready I'll put you back in,' and she stopped crying," Nizzi continued. "Upon her going back in, she never went to the ball to participate in the game that was going on. She went right to this guy and put on the best downfield block that I have ever seen and rolled this kid out of bounds and stood over him." It was then that Nizzi knew his granddaughter was a star in the making.

Clark was part of her high school's soccer team

Although Caitlin Clark became prominent in the basketball scene while playing on Iowa's Dowling Catholic High School team — even impressively scoring 60 points (including 13 three-pointers) in one game – she was talented in many various sports before she settled on the one. "Honestly, growing up, like, I loved soccer too and I played every sport basically like I ran track, I did softball," Clark recalled in her interview with "Good Morning America." In fact, she was so good at soccer, that she was named to the 2017 All-Iowa girls' soccer team.

So, what was it about basketball that stood out over other sports? "I just love the competitive side of it," she told "Good Morning America," adding that it was also the easier sport to choose because of working with her father, Brent Clark. "I think it just speaks to the bond I've had especially with my dad over the course of my basketball upbringing." While she was successful at multiple sports, Caitlin decided that basketball was her calling.

She represented the USA internationally multiple times

In 2017, 15-year-old Caitlin Clark beat out over 100 athletes to make it to the USA Women's Under 16 basketball team. Clark was happy to be there. "When they said 'Congratulations, you've made the team,' I had a big smile on my face," she expressed at the time. That year, the team recorded a 91-46 score against Canada to secure the FIBA Under-16 Women's Americas Championship title.

The following year, Clark didn't make it on the Under-16 team due in part to an injury. As she explained on "Good Morning America," "I hurt my pinkie during training camp, but like I playing like I was fine, but also I just played really bad. I didn't deserve to be on the team." Clark ultimately played on the Under-19 team in 2019 and 2021. During both appearances, she helped the team secure gold medals at the Women's Basketball World Cup. 

As of this writing, Clark's chances of representing Team USA during the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics are high, but she has to make it past the trials. "I want to be on that team, I want to be an Olympic gold medalist one day," Clark gushed at a press conference. "But, you know, everybody knows how competitive, you know, women's basketball is in our country."

For Clark, choosing Iowa was 'one of the best decisions'

Caitlin Clark announced that she would be joining the University of Iowa's Hawkeyes basketball team in a November 2019 tweet. According to her, playing at home was one of her wisest moves, one that took a while to get right. She had to decline playing for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, even though she had a soft spot for their then-lead coach, Muffet McGraw. 

"This is like one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life," Clark remarked in her interview with ESPN. "I felt in my heart, like, I had to be here, like, something was really pulling me here, and obviously this is my home state, and I wanted to represent my state."

Clark had ample time to get to know her teammates since her recruitment coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. As the years passed, she could see a change in the size of the crowd that showed up for games. The numbers gradually increased, and by the time she was exiting the Hawkeyes, their games' tickets were often sold out. Throughout her run as a Hawkeye, Clark earned several accolades, including being named the National Player of the Year back-to-back and successively being hailed thrice as the MVP of the Big Ten tournament.

She and Monika Czinano struck up a friendship

Just as Caitlin Clark found a pseudo-rivalry on the court with Louisiana State University forward Angel Reese, she struck up a friendship with her Hawkeye teammate,  starting center Monika Czinano. Czinano joined the University of Iowa basketball team in 2018, and when Clark came along, the two quickly became a power duo on the court. The two put their friendship to the test in a fun 2021 interview with March Madness, and as it turned out, they knew a lot about each other: Czinano got the answer to Clark's childhood idol right (four-time WNBA champion Maya Moore), while Clark knew her go-to artist before every game (Jack Harlow).

Both players have spoken highly of each other. Czinano — who was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2023 WNBA draft and released that same year – gushed about Clark as a person and teammate during a press conference after losing the 2023 National Championship. "She is a phenomenal basketball player, we all know that," she described. "She's proven it time and time again but I think the biggest thing is the way she holds herself and the way she plays the game ... She's being a role model to the kids who want to grow up and be just like her." During the emotional post-game brief, Czinano, who was also teary-eyed, kept soothing a crying Clark.

She became the NCAA's top scorer of all time

In February 2024, Caitlin Clark officially cemented herself in college basketball history by accumulating 3,650 career points to surpass Lynette Woodard's record and become the NCAA's all-time leading female scorer. It was only a matter of time before she was back in the spotlight for breaking Pete Maravich's top-scoring NCAA career record of 3,667 points to be named the overall top scorer (male or female). Clark achieved the feat by scoring an astounding 35 points in a game against Ohio State, which brought her cumulative points to 3,685. 

It was an achievement Clark thought was surreal, and when she spoke about it to the press, she paid homage to the players before her who had also shown such exceptional talent. "It's really like crazy to think about," Clark explained in the press conference. "If you would have told me that before my college career started I would have laughed in your face and then been like, 'No, you're insane.' ... I don't think people really understand how many amazing players have come before me and like, been able to score the ball, and do it at such a high rate."

She beat Steph Curry's three-point record

Caitlin Clark's signature deep three-pointer – which she perfected when she began playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes – has often sent her fans into a frenzy and beat the buzzer a couple of times. It's a technique the point guard developed to curb the aggression of her opponents, as she explained on "Sue's Places." "They would just be physical and just push me off the line, make it harder to get to my spots," Clark said. "So I kinda had to learn to create off the bounce a lot and now I feel like I'm almost more comfortable having the ball in my hands and shooting off the dribble rather than a catch-and-shoot three."

In March 2024, Clark smashed the NCAA Division 1 record for the most three-pointers made in a single season, 163, which was previously held by Davidson Wildcats' Steph Curry and Liberty Flames' Darius McGhee at 162 shots. If you're wondering what Curry thought of Clark's milestone being pitted against his own, Curry himself told "CBS Mornings," "I think it almost robs her of, like, the rest of her game because ... She's racking up, you know, close to triple-doubles every night ... her shooting ability is her superpower but the rest of her game is as polished as that."

The Iowa Hawkeyes retired her jersey

In a February 2024 post on Instagram, Caitlin Clark announced that she was leaving the University of Iowa after the season ended to take a shot at the WNBA. "It is impossible to fully express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me during my time at Iowa," Clark wrote and thanked the members of the team, workers at the institution, the coaching squad, fans, and her family. "Because of all of you, my dreams came true," she concluded.

Nearly two months after Clark's deeply felt statement, the Iowa Hawkeyes tweeted that her jersey would be officially retired. As of April 2024, there will never be another No. 22 at the school. Coincidentally, Clark was 22 years old when she took a bow.

In her final goodbye to the team (via ESPN), Clark was asked about her thoughts on her jersey's retirement, to which she replied, "It's super incredible, um, something I'm very thankful for and obviously I've had some amazing teammates over the course of my four years." She further acknowledged other No. 22 players like Kathleen Doyle, who played for the Hawkeyes from 2016 to 2019, and Samantha Logic, who ultimately got signed to the Atlanta Dream.

Clark made her SNL debut

Ahead of the 2024 WNBA draft, Caitlin Clark made a surprise guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Clark roasted Michael Che, who has in the past made some unflattering comments about the WNBA during the show's "Weekend Update" segment. During the "SNL" appearance, Clark said she came up with some jokes of her own for Che to read aloud. She took a stab at Che's 2021 stand-up special, with him saying, "Netflix's top new show is 'Ripley' featuring an eerie, unsettling performance by actor Andrew Scott. Critics say it's the hardest thing to watch on Netflix since Michael Che's special 'Shame the Devil.'"

Clark also threw in an NSFW joke whose punchline, "Indiana Fever is a WNBA team and not what Michael Che gave to dozens of women at Purdue University," left the audience in stitches. In a chat with "Today," she shared that preparing for "SNL" was more nerve-wracking than training for a championship title, even though she had ticked one box off her checklist. "That's a bucket list item that not a lot of people get to do," Clark remarked.

Her WNBA dreams finally came true

When Caitlin Clark was in the second grade, she had a list of goals written down, as she told "Today." At the top of that list, she wanted a basketball scholarship and the chance to join the WNBA. Her quest for playing women's basketball at the highest level was fulfilled when she became the Indiana Fever's No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft. Although it seemed like a pretty obvious choice, Clark was tense in the minutes leading up to the announcement, but happy to be with her loved ones.

"It's a moment I've dreamed of since I was in second grade and [to] be there with my family at the table was amazing and to share with it with them was super special," Clark told "Good Morning America." Of course, critics like Diana Taurasi have implied that the WNBA may humble Clark, but there's no telling how she'll perform until she takes to the court again.

This new chapter not only casts a light on Clark's skills but also provides an opportunity for her to scale her paychecks, which are already hefty. Although her WNBA contract paled in comparison to the NBA, Clark has made an appearance in a commercial by State Farm, which obviously does not come cheap, and got a nod from Nike. Her charitable pursuits through The Caitlin Clark Foundation, which aims to promote sports, education, and nutrition amongst young people, are also likely to soar.