Caitlin Clark declares for WNBA Draft, will leave Iowa women’s basketball after season

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By Dargan Southard, Des Moines Register

With one more regular-season game remaining plus the postseason, the finish line is officially approaching on Caitlin Clark’s Iowa women’s basketball career.

Ahead of senior day Sunday against No. 2 Ohio State, Clark announced Thursday afternoon that she will enter the 2024 WNBA Draft and will not return to Iowa for her COVID year of eligibility. Clark is widely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick of the Indiana Fever on draft day, which is April 15.

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“While this season is far from over and we have a lot more goals to achieve, it will be my last one at Iowa,” Clark wrote in her farewell post on social media. “It is impossible to fully express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me during my time at Iowa − my teammates, who made the last four years the best; my coaches, trainers, and staff who always let me be me; Hawkeye fans who filled Carver every night; and everyone who came out to support us across the country, especially the young kids.

“Most importantly, none of this would have been possible without my family and friends who have been by my side through it all. Because of all of you, my dreams came true.”

When asked throughout the season about her WNBA future, Clark calmly deflected the question and emphasized her focus on this season. But the noise was only going to grow louder as Iowa’s year in the spotlight winds down.

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Cementing a decision before this campaign reaches its full intensity will allow Clark and the Hawkeyes to operate with a clear mind in March.

“I think she’s been carrying that pressure the whole year,” Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen said Thursday. “… Then as we got closer to the (scoring) milestones and senior day, we met with her often. How do you want that to look? It can be a definite decision. It can be a maybe. Is it going to be ‘Let me see how it ends?’ But we talked about the pros and the cons, and obviously, everyone wants her to come back who’s an Iowa fan. But we also understand the pressure she’s been carrying has been great. And then new frontiers, I think Caitlin is wired for challenges. She’s wired for everything that’s on that next horizon.”

Whenever and wherever it ends, Clark’s Iowa career will finish nothing short of legendary. She owns the scoring record for NCAA women’s basketball, major women’s college basketball and soon, all of Division I basketball. The homegrown superstar from West Des Moines delivered on her promise to take Iowa back to the Final Four for the first time since 1993. Another trip there in a few weeks would only further this incredible legacy.

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Clark’s impact, though, extends well beyond the box score. She’s been a perfect ambassador for college basketball, willingly becoming the face of the sport while remaining fully self-aware of everything that comes with such an illustrious title. She’s been the main catalyst in pushing the sport forward like never before. The sold-out arenas (both home and road), the countless autographs Clark signs after every game, the number of kids who have found a basketball hero to imitate — all of which will generate lasting memories from Clark’s transcendent career.

The cost for tickets to Sunday’s game was already astronomically high, and it’ll likely take another jump following Thursday’s announcement. Clark likely has just three games remaining at Carver-Hawkeye Arena — Sunday, plus two NCAA Tournament contests — and potentially less than 10 games left overall. All of Iowa’s remaining matchups were already going to be sold out. Now, the scenes will be even crazier knowing this show is in its final act.

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No one could’ve fully envisioned what was coming next when Clark decided to stay home almost five years ago and turn Lisa Bluder’s Hawkeyes into a powerhouse program. Well, maybe Clark did. Her unwavering confidence since arriving on campus has changed the way people view women’s college basketball and women’s athletics as a whole.

“She’s such a special player, and the University of Iowa is the right place for this to happen,” Bluder said recently after Clark broke Kelsey Plum’s scoring record at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It absolutely is. This is a place that’s supported women’s basketball for such a long time.

“Anything can happen here. We show it over and over again.”   

Now, once the final buzzer sounds on this memorable career, it’s on to the next challenge.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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