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College basketball phenom Caitlin Clark selected first in WNBA draft

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announces Caitlin Clark as the first pick by the Indiana Fever the 2024 WNBA Draft. Photo: Melanie Fidler / NBAE / Getty Images / Getty Images via AFP

Caitlin Clark, who smashed records on and off the court in a dazzling US college career, was selected first in the WNBA draft on Monday amid expectations she will have a transformative effect on women’s professional basketball.

The Indiana Fever made it official, taking the 22-year-old Iowa Hawkeyes star with the first pick in front of a rapt crowd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“I got a little anxious there before the pick,” Clark said in an interview with broadcaster ESPN.

“I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was in second grade and it’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of ups and downs.

“I told my mom before this, you know, I earned it, and that’s why I’m so proud of it.”

The Fever won the 2012 WNBA crown but haven’t been to the playoffs since 2016.

They had the second-lowest attendance in the league in 2023 with an average of 4,066 fans per game.

But with Clark on board alongside last year’s overall top pick Aliyah Boston, in Indiana all that seems set to change.

In anticipation of her selection, the WNBA had already scheduled 36 of the Fever’s 40 games next season for national television.

Even before the draft the Fever had begun selling a limited amount of single-game tickets, betting that the basketball-mad Midwestern state of Indiana would be prime territory for “Clark-mania.”

Seats for games against Connecticut and Los Angeles sold out within hours of going on sale.

Everyone wants to see the two-time national player of the year, whose fame is built on a foundation of on-court excellence that saw her eclipse Pete Maravich’s 54-year-old all-time college basketball scoring record.

Her remarkable long-range shooting prowess made for a stream of highlight-reel baskets. She averaged 31.6 points per game this season as she led Iowa to the NCAA championship game for a second straight year.

They were beaten both times, but thanks to Clark’s impact the Hawkeyes set or broke attendance records in all but two of their games.

This month’s title game, in which South Carolina vanquished Clark’s Iowa, drew an average audience of 18.7 million viewers.

That made it the most watched women’s basketball game in history and the most watched basketball game of any kind — men’s or women’s, college or professional — since 2019.

Pretty insane

Clark’s face adorns cereal boxes and State Farm Insurance billboards, and just last week she appeared as herself on the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”

“Obviously the course of the last few weeks has been pretty insane in my life,” Clark said. “I’m just very lucky to be in this moment, and all these opportunities and these things, they’re once in a lifetime.

“This isn’t something everybody gets to do.”

While Clark’s trademark is explosive scoring, her coaches and teammates have touted her maturity and high basketball IQ and Clark said that will be key as she joins Boston and the rest of her new teammates in trying to revive the Fever’s fortunes.

Clark is part of a 2024 draft class loaded with talent.

The Los Angeles Sparks took Stanford forward Cameron Brink with the second pick and the Chicago Sky took South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso of Brazil third overall.

Cardoso was a cornerstone of South Carolina’s unbeaten season — capped by their win over Clark and Iowa for the title.

Cardoso will be joined in Chicago by Angel Reese — the flamboyant forward who led Louisiana State University to victory over Iowa in the 2023 women’s final.

Reese was taken seventh overall by the Sky.

“The WNBA is so competitive right now,” Clark said. “So you’d better bring it every single night — and I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

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