Logo 3s, precise passing, superstardom: Caitlin Clark is The Athletic’s women’s basketball Player of the Year


Our honor of naming Caitlin Clark The Athletic’s Player of the Year is a surprise to absolutely no one.

A media outlet or organization that doesn’t crown her as the national player of the year would be committing the basketball version of heresy. Small children to grandparents and the generations in between know about Clark’s record-setting season and her penchant for shots that sometimes seem like they’re launched from the moon.

The mythology of Caitlin Clark is growing — and will become even more legendary if she carries Iowa to the national championship game once again. Her wow-factor shooting has lured in casual viewers to become not only Iowa diehards but women’s college basketball fans. Clark has been impossible to ignore, but somehow the bigger her stardom, seemingly the more under-appreciated the nuances in her game become that go beyond the razzle-dazzle.

Clark leads the nation with 32.7 points per game (a category she’s led three of her four seasons), while also ranking first with 8.7 assists per game (a category she’s led nationally the last three seasons). She’s making the most 3-pointers per game with 5.4 (a category she also led last season), but her 7 defensive rebounds per game rank her in the 95th percentile of players. Her win shares and player efficiency rating, per HerHoopsStats, top the charts.

Why Clark is the best player in the nation is unquestionably based on her phenomenal skill we’ve rarely seen in the sport. She does so much so well, she floods fans’ memories with highlights.

But as we voted for our Player of the Year — admittedly, an easy vote void of debate this season — we tasked our women’s college basketball experts with a harder question. What stood out most about Clark’s memorable season?

The precision passing

As much fun as I’ve had watching Clark launch 3s from the logo, I’ve gotta go with an assist for this. I’ve had a chance to see her in person three times this season and I walk away every time saying, “Television might give folks an idea of Clark as a shooter, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of how good she is as a passer.” To truly understand her vision and her ability to find these needle-threading windows, you need to be able to see the full court, not sections selected by a cameraperson. Seeing Clark make 60-foot passes in transition look easy or watching her send an absolute rocket through four defenders is never going to get old. This specific one is the assist that made Clark the Big Ten leader in assists, so it feels appropriate to have a pass that shows her vision, precision and execution all on full display included here. Plus, nice finish, Hannah Stuelke. I’ll miss that connection next year. Check the pass at the 51-second mark here:

— Chantel Jennings

The dazzling star

Even after watching Clark lead the Hawkeyes to the national title game, I don’t think I understood the magnitude of what she would mean to college basketball until the start of this season, when Iowa faced Virginia Tech in Charlotte. Witnessing more than 15,000 fans at a neutral site live and die with every moment of a nonconference game was all the proof necessary that Clark was going to be a phenomenon wherever she went this year. And of course, on national television, she delivered a masterpiece, posting 44 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. The list of power conference players who have scored 44 points in a game this year? JuJu Watkins, Hannah Stuelke and Caitlin Clark, who has done it three times … and counting. By the way, those other two combined for three assists in their games.

On a night when Virginia Tech superstar Georgia Amoore scored 31 points of her own, Hokies coach Kenny Brooks was realistic about what it meant to go up against Clark. “I love my girls,” he said, “but sometimes you’re playing checkers and she’s playing chess. She’s that good.” She has been dazzling crowds – and opposing coaches – ever since.

— Sabreena Merchant

The logo 3s

Clark said it herself: How else was she going to cement her place in history and set the NCAA women’s all-time scoring record than with a logo 3? Her triple, on Iowa’s fifth possession against Michigan on Feb. 15, gave Clark the all-time record and set off raucous ovations inside a sellout Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was the most fitting way for her to make history, and it was made all the more impressive by the fact it took her only 2:22 for her to score 8 points and pass former Washington star Kelsey Plum. That night, Clark would go on to record a career-high and program record 49 points in the Hawkeyes’ 106-89 win, putting on a masterful showcase that punctuated the evening’s occasion. “What she’s done to uplift our program and women’s basketball nationally is spectacular,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said afterward. Clark’s passing is undeniably exquisite — in terms of flair and accuracy — but Clark will first, and foremost, go down as among the very best scorers (and shooters) in the history of college basketball, men’s or women’s. Perhaps the very best. I could have picked any number of moments then in which she put the ball in the basket — her game-winning 3-pointer against Michigan State, her 3-pointer against Minnesota to pass Lynette Woodard, her free throws to leapfrog Pete Maravich, etc. — but perhaps no sequence epitomizes her greatness and drive like the manner in which she passed Plum.

— Ben Pickman

POY voting tally

Player Team Points

Caitlin Clark

30

Cameron Brink

27

JuJu Watkins

21

(Photo of Caitlin Clark: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)





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