Team USA may have ‘woke a monster’ by not picking Clark for Olympics

INDIANAPOLIS — There are few teams, if any, Caitlin Clark hasn’t made in her life.

Team USA’s Olympic team is one of them.

Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides revealed Sunday after practice that they were on the team bus when Clark — the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer and the No. 1 pick in the 2024 Draft — recently found out that she didn’t make the cut to represent the U.S. at the Paris Olympics.

Her response?

“’Hey, coach, they woke a monster,’” Sides said, reciting Clark.

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Although an official roster has yet to be announced, Clark was not one of the 12 players selected, sources briefed on the decision said Saturday. Clark confirmed the decision Sunday, saying she recently received a call from USA Basketball that her first Olympic experience will have to wait.

“Honestly, no disappointment,” Clark said. “I think it just gives you something to work for. That’s a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there.

“I think it’s just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully in four years, when four years comes back around, I can be there.”

Only four rookies have ever made the Olympic team: hall of famer Rebecca Lobo in 1996, Diana Taurasi in 2004, Candace Parker in 2008 and Breanna Stewart in 2016.

In passing on the 22-year-old Clark, USA Basketball ultimately leaned toward a more veteran and accomplished roster featuring Taurasi, Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Brittney Griner, Alyssa Thomas, Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Sabrina Ionescu, Chelsea Gray and Kahleah Copper. The youngest players in that group are Ionescu and Young, who are both 26. Ionescu is a two-time All-Star and two-time All-WNBA Second-Team honoree, while Young is also a two-time All-Star, made the All-WNBA Second Team last year and was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2022.

Clark is aware of the talent and merit of the players chosen over her, calling the Olympic squad “the most competitive team in the world.” The 12-woman roster combines for 18 championship rings, four league MVPs, seven Finals MVPs, 42 all-WNBA selections and 55 All-Star selections. Team USA is also 70-3 all-time in Olympic play, hasn’t lost an Olympic contest since 1992 and hasn’t lost a tournament game overall since 2006. The program is eyeing its eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal, which would break a tie with the men’s side (1936 to 1968) for the most consecutive Olympic team gold medals in history.

“We all know how talented that team is,” Clark said. “You look at that roster, (there are) a lot of players I’ve already had the opportunity to play (against) in this league that are just so good, and I know they’re gonna go out there and dominate, and I’m gonna be watching and cheering for them. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Asked if she’d consider joining the team as an injury replacement, Clark said it would be “a great opportunity” but was noncommittal. She added that Team USA is already “in pretty good hands” with the 12 players who were initially chosen.

While Clark said she was excited to watch her countrywomen, her coach made it clear that the self-proclaimed “monster” would rather be playing alongside them.

“That’s pretty scary, right?” Sides said of Clark using her Olympic omission as motivation. “She’s one of the most competitive people that I know. But she’s a worker, and that’s what she’s gonna do. This just gave her another opportunity to get in the gym and do more work.”

Clark is averaging 16.8 points, 6.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds through 12 WNBA games. She was named the WNBA Rookie of the Month for May after leading all rookies in points per game, field goals made, 3-point field goals made, free throws made and minutes played.

After being held to just three points — her career-low in college and the WNBA — in a loss at New York on June 2, Clark bounced back five days later by nailing a career-high seven 3s en route to tying her career-high with 30 points in a win at Washington. It still hasn’t been smooth sailing for Clark, who is shooting just 37.3 percent from the field and leads the league with 5.6 turnovers per game.

Even before her pro career began, Clark was one of 14 players to receive an invite to the U.S. national team’s final Cleveland-based training camp in April ahead of the Summer Games. The rookie may have had a better chance to make the Olympic team had she played directly with and against the players in the pool. However, although Clark was in Cleveland at the time, she was unable to attend the camp because Iowa advanced to the Final Four. The Hawkeyes ultimately lost in the national championship against undefeated South Carolina.

Despite the quick turnaround from her illustrious college career and her highly-anticipated pro debut, Clark still wanted to represent her country in the Olympics. But she’s not complaining about having a midseason pause to recharge and refocus after the Fever’s staggering start. Indiana played 11 games in 19 days to begin the season, the most compact schedule since Washington played 11 games in 20 days to open the 2007 campaign. The Fever will play its last game before the Olympic break at Dallas on July 17 and will resume play Aug. 17 at home against Phoenix.

“It’s gonna be really nice,” Clark said about the anticipated break. “I’ve loved competing every single second, but it’s gonna be a great month for my body to first of all get rest and get healthy, and just get a little time away from basketball and the craziness of everything that’s been going on and just find some peace and quiet for myself.

“But then additionally, it’s a great opportunity for us to work and get better.”

Required reading

(Photo: G Fiume / Getty Images)

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