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(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; Photos of Caitlin Clark: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images, David K Purdy / Getty Images, Matthew Holst / Getty Images)

The joke about Iowa is that there’s nothing here.

It’s boring. It’s flyover country. It’s so flat that if a breeze comes off the Missouri River, which carves out most of the Western border of the state, you feel it on the Eastern abutting Mississippi River.

They say that there are more cows than people (OK, that one is true).

But here’s what you don’t know if you didn’t grow up here, if you didn’t spend countless weekend mornings driving across this state to gymnasiums scattered around the Midwest: There’s no sunrise in the country quite like an Iowa sunrise. When a state is this flat and you can see this far, your perspective changes. You might be focused on the exit ahead of you, but 20 miles ahead, you see that first bulb of orange peek over the horizon as the rest of the sky somehow fades from black to dark purple. And then, with increasing speed, it all bursts into a gradient of yellows and pinks and blues. You see the full sky, no distractions, while the mile markers whoosh past.

It was on these roads, in the middle of nowhere, that Caitlin Clark spent many mornings of her adolescent life riding with her parents to basketball tournaments and practices. From West Des Moines to Wisconsin to Illinois to Nebraska and back again.

Anything within seven hours?

“Yep,” says Clark’s dad Brent, with real Midwestern dad energy, “that’s drivable.”

She texted friends and listened to music. They talked about Caitlin’s game and dreamed about her goal of getting to the WNBA, discussing what it would take to get there. It was all hypothetical then.

The beauty of this place is that it feels like you can see for a hundred miles. That’s also the thing that can drive you mad. Because when you’re on these roads and one silo replaces the next, it’s natural to question if you’re getting anywhere until you’ve arrived.

So it’s fitting that this place — the boring, flat, cow-riddled Midwest — became the epicenter of one of the biggest shows college basketball has ever seen. In the dark and cold of a typically dreary Iowa winter, it was Clark who filled every seat in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Never mind the freezing temps or the 17 hours of darkness that descend upon this place in the peak of winter, Clark chose here. This winter, she made Iowa the most exciting show on hardwood.

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Is this heaven? No, it’s Caitlin Clark’s Iowa

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