Dom. May 26th, 2024

Publicidad

NEW YORK — Caitlin Clark is officially a pro.

Clark, the record-breaking face of women’s college basketball, was selected No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2024 WNBA draft Monday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The draft was held with fans for the first time since the 2014-2016 iterations of the event. Tickets for 1,000 spectators sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale a few months ago.

Clark’s coronation was long anticipated after she announced in late February she was headed to the league instead of using her extra year of collegiate eligibility.

But that didn’t make the moment any less special for Clark, her loved ones, her Iowa family and the ecstatic fans who packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse back in Indianapolis to see her hold up a Fever jersey on the jumbotron.

«When you’re just sitting at a table waiting for your name to be called, that really allows the emotions to feed you,» Clark said. «You’re with your family. Obviously, playing a basketball game, I’m not out there with my family. So sharing that moment with them and enjoying it, and people that have really had my back and believed in me more than anyone, is super special.»

The Los Angeles Sparks, rebuilding following the departure of Nneka Ogwumike in free agency, selected two players in the lottery: Stanford’s Cameron Brink at No. 2 and Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson at No. 4. Brink joins Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike as the third Stanford player selected in the top two of the WNBA draft and is the program’s 15th first-rounder.

«I love that I get to stay on the West Coast, and I love that they took a chance on me,» Brink said. «I feel like I’m just going to show that I can work really hard and help them a lot. But also, I’ll be close to family, which is really important for me.»

Jackson, who started her career at Mississippi State, is Tennessee’s 19th first-round pick, the second most in WNBA draft history.

The Chicago Sky made a splash in selecting South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso (No. 3) and LSU’s Angel Reese (No. 7), the 2024 and 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Players, respectively. Cardoso helped the Gamecocks win their third national championship to complete an undefeated season, then attended the team’s championship parade Sunday before traveling to New York.

«She’s a great player, and I’m a great player,» Cardoso said of Reese, someone she played against in high school and in SEC play. «Nobody’s going to get no rebounds on us,» she added with a laugh.

In a new era with WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon at the helm, the Sky swapped picks with Minnesota on Sunday to draft seventh.

Reese’ 61 double-doubles over the past two seasons were the most in Division I and second most in LSU history, behind only Sylvia Fowles. Reese — who rose to superstardom in leading the Tigers to their first national championship in 2023 — is LSU’s highest pick since Fowles (No. 2 overall in 2008).

«Knowing the conversations were so good and [Weatherspoon] felt like a mother to me,» Reese said. «Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she’s done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table. Jeff [Pagliocca], the GM, was amazing, too, and player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I’m super excited for this move, and I’m just looking forward to getting to Chicago.»

With the women’s college game exploding in popularity as players such as Clark and Reese became household names, the arrival of the 2024 draft class is widely regarded to be a potential watershed moment for the WNBA.

«This is a generational class,» Jackson said. «I feel like this class is just so different. I know this class is different. … Women’s basketball is on an uproar. Everybody is tuning in. … I’m grateful to be a part of this draft class. I feel like we’re just trending in the right direction.»

Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon went fifth to the Dallas Wings, and the Washington Mystics took UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards at No. 6. Edwards put up career highs in both scoring (17.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.2) in 2023-24.

Minnesota drafted Alissa Pili of Utah eighth. Pili averaged 21.1 points over the past two seasons, which ranked fourth in Division I behind only Clark (29.7), Ta’Niya Latson (21.3) and McKenna Hofschild (21.3).

The New York Liberty, who made the WNBA Finals last year, selected Marquesha Davis with the 11th pick. Davis becomes just the fourth Ole Miss player to be selected in the first round.

Three international players were also selected in the first round: Carla Leite of France (No. 9 to Dallas), Leïla Lacan of France (No. 10 to the Connecticut Sun) and Nyadiew Puoch of Australia (No. 12 to the Atlanta Dream). It marks the fourth time three or more international players were selected in the first round of the WNBA draft (2021, 2001, 2000).

Clark, a 6-foot guard and West Des Moines, Iowa, native, enters the league on top of the world. A two-time national player of the year, she ended her collegiate career with 3,951 points, the most in men’s and women’s Division I history, while propelling the Iowa Hawkeyes to back-to-back national title game appearances, their first in program history.

Her logo 3-pointers, highlight-reel assists and offensive firepower (she averaged 31.6 points as a senior, and 28.4 points for her career) have drawn sellout crowds in Iowa City and on the road, while shattering television ratings across a multitude of networks and streaming platforms along the way.

She has her own cereal box and State Farm commercials, and just this past weekend she appeared as herself on «Saturday Night Live.» Now, her biggest challenge, and biggest opportunity, awaits.

The Fever haven’t appeared in the playoffs since 2016, the legendary Tamika Catchings’ final season. But with Clark joining forces with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Aliyah Boston, the pairing seems destined to change the trajectory of the franchise — and possibly the league — for the years to come.

Winners of the 2012 WNBA title, Indiana has languished since Catchings’ retirement, sporting the worst winning percentage in the league since the start of the 2017 season despite selecting lottery picks in each of the past seven drafts. Four of those seven picks are no longer with the team.

Signs of progress emerged this past season with Boston, the franchise’s first No. 1 pick, as the Fever won 13 games, tied for the most since Catchings’ retirement. With Clark now in the mix, snapping the longest active playoff drought seems well within reach.

«That’s definitely our goal, is to get back to championship habits,» Clark said, joking that even though Indiana Hoosiers fans didn’t love her when she was at Iowa, she hopes to turn them into Fever fans now. «I’m very lucky to be going there to an organization that really loves women’s basketball. You see it today, I think they had 17,000 tickets claimed to just watch the draft. I think that shows the excitement in Indianapolis. It’s a great basketball city.

«For myself, I can’t imagine a more perfect fit, a better place for me to start my professional career, an organization that really just believes in women’s basketball and wants to do everything the right way. So I couldn’t be more excited to get there.»

Fever general manager Lin Dunn shared Clark’s sentiment.

«It’s a perfect fit for us,» Dunn said. «She’s from the Big Ten, the Midwest — is there any place better for her than Indianapolis, Indiana? I can’t think of it.»

Dunn was asked about the franchise having back-to-back No. 1 picks, as was the case when she was general manager of the Seattle Storm with Lauren Jackson (2001) and Sue Bird in (2002).

«Well, it doesn’t happen very often. And so when it does happen — and you can look back historically — it usually means that it leads to championships,» Dunn said. «I think this is the beginning of us getting back on track to win another championship here. When we were able to put Bird and Jackson together — a great point guard and a great post player — we were able to take off in Seattle, and I think that could happen here when you put Clark with Boston.»

Clark, the only Division I women’s player with more than 3,000 points and 1,000 assists, will have two similarly young but elite post targets in Boston, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year, and NaLyssa Smith, a 2022 lottery pick. After Clark developed strong chemistry with Iowa post players Monika Czinano and Hannah Stuelke, the connections she, Boston and Smith can form in Indianapolis are tantalizing prospects for Fever fans.

«Going to an organization that has, in my eyes, one of the best post players in the entire world. My point guard eyes just light up at that,» Clark said of Boston. «My biggest job is I’m just feeding Aliyah the ball every single day. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be in there and be like, go make a layup. She’s going to make my life easy.»

Clark will also share the backcourt with two veteran guards in Kelsey Mitchell, No. 4 on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list and a top 3-point shooter in the league last season, as well as returning point guard Erica Wheeler.

«I’m 22 years old, and I don’t have all the answers in the world,» Clark said. «This is something new to me. This is a new challenge. That’s something I’m excited for. But having those type of people around me to lean on and ask questions, or when things get hard, to be there for me.»

Of the other prospects invited to the draft Monday: UConn’s Nika Muhl was taken with the second pick of the second round by the Storm; Ohio State’s Celeste Taylor is headed to Indiana after being selected No. 15 overall; Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair (No. 16) — who finished her collegiate career third on the all-time Division I women’s career points list behind only Clark and Kelsey Plum — and Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley (No. 24) were chosen by the Las Vegas Aces; and UCLA’s Charisma Osborne was picked with the first pick of the third round by the Phoenix Mercury.

Iowa’s Kate Martin, in the crowd to support teammate Clark, was also chosen No. 18 overall by the Aces.

ESPN’s Michael Voepel and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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