Banged-up Caitlin Clark heads to Seattle for her first game vs. Storm

Percy Allen, The Seattle Times on

Published in Basketball

SEATTLE — Never one to shy away from a hot topic, outspoken WNBA superstar Diana Taurasi caused a bit of a stir last month when she predicted Caitlin Clark would struggle during her first season in the league.

“Reality is coming,” Taurasi told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter when asked about Clark’s future in the WNBA. “There’s levels to this thing. That’s just life. We all went through it. You see it on the NBA side, and you’re going to see it on this side. You look superhuman playing against some 18-year-olds, but you’re going to come play with some grown women that have been playing professional basketball for a long time.

“Not saying it’s not going to translate, because when you’re great at what you do you’re just going to get better, but there is going to be a transition period when you have to give some grace as a rookie. It may take a little bit longer for some people.”

Who would know better what lies ahead for the NCAA Division I all-time scoring leader than the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader?

“The new fans are really sensitive these days,” Taurasi told The Arizona Republic during the Phoenix Mercury’s training camp weeks ago. “You can’t say anything.

“It’s kind of like when you go from kindergarten to first grade, there’s a learning adjustment. When you go from high school to college, there’s a learning adjustment. I don’t think I said anything that wasn’t factually correct. Like anything, greatness is going to translate and (Clark has) proven that at every level. I don’t see it being any different in the WNBA.”

After a week and four games into Clark’s rookie season, Taurasi’s blunt warning is proving to be somewhat prophetic.

While leading Iowa to a 34-5 record during her record-breaking 2023-24 senior season, the 6-foot scoring sensation averaged 31.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 8.9 assists while shooting 45.5% from the field and 37.8% on 3-pointers.

Heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. matchup against the Storm — her first WNBA game in Seattle — the Indiana Fever’s No. 1 overall draft pick is averaging 17 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists while shooting 41.2% from the floor and 34.3% on 3s.

Those are better than respectable statistics for Clark, who is the favorite to win the WNBA Rookie of the Year award.

It must be noted she also leads the league with 6.5 turnovers per game.

And the Fever are 0-4, including a couple of blowout losses.

To be fair, Indiana has endured a brutal schedule early in the season, which included home and away contests against the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun before their three-game West Coast road trip that includes stops in Seattle, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“I think you could see the progress this team is making,” Clark said following Monday’s 88-84 loss to the Sun. “That’s why this one hurts a lot because we were right there, and we had plenty of opportunities to go win the game.

“And then you don’t. And it’s just some little things that we do to ourselves.”

Speaking of self-inflicted damage, Clark stumbled on defense while attempting to avoid a screen and rolled her left ankle midway in the second quarter. She went to the locker room, returned minutes later and sat out the remainder of the first half.

“I turned it pretty good,” said Clark who played in the second half and finished with 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and five turnovers. “I think it just got caught. I don’t think I stepped on anybody. … I don’t have the best ankles in the world. It was a little tight this morning, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“It felt good. I just wanted to get a lot more tape on it as fast as I could.”

Seemingly, everyone in the WNBA collectively held their breath when Clark went down, and her injury status went viral on social media considering what she means to the league and her legion of sponsors.


On Tuesday, Clark continued to make history when she announced a marketing agreement with Wilson Sporting Goods — joining Michael Jordan as the only athletes to be a brand ambassador for the sports equipment giant.

Financial terms were not disclosed on a multiyear deal that includes a signature basketball line and a role in which she’ll test, advise and provide feedback on basketball products.

Clark, who has endorsement deals with State Farm, Gatorade and Panini, also reportedly signed an eight-year, $28 million deal with Nike that includes a signature shoe.

“I love the attention that she’s drawing,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “I love that we’re going to have a sellout crowd and I love what (she’s) doing for the game of basketball, not just women’s basketball, but basketball in general.”

On Wednesday, the Storm are expecting 18,353 fans — their second sellout and largest crowd at Climate Pledge Arena — as well as a franchise record-setting windfall of about $1.1 million in ticket revenue.

The Sparks and Aces moved their games against the Fever to larger venues to accommodate overflow crowds and cash in on the Clark phenomenon.

The Sparks relocated Friday’s game from Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid (capacity 5,000) to Arena, which seats 19,067, in downtown Los Angeles.

The Aces, who play home games at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay (capacity: 12,000) will host the Fever on Saturday at 18,000-seat T-Mobile Arena.

“With the growth of the WNBA, it makes me wonder if other teams also need to start getting ready to play in bigger arenas on a regular basis,” Storm chief sales officer Kyle Waters said. “I’m thankful I work for a team that was ready for it.”

It remains to be seen if the Storm (1-3) will be ready for Clark and the Fever following a taxing East Coast road trip in which star forward Nneka Ogwumike suffered an ankle injury that caused her to miss the last two games, including Monday’s 74-63 listless loss against the Liberty.

Much like Indiana, Seattle hopes to rise from the bottom of last year’s standings to the postseason with a reconfigured roster. Both squads have stumbled at the start of the season.

“Win,” Storm guard Sami Whitcomb said Monday night when asked the team’s mindset heading into Wednesday’s game. “We believe in each other and we believe in what we’re doing. We know that we’re right there.

“So, it’s just fine-tuning some things, we’ll watch some film and we’ll figure it out. … Every game the mentality is to win. We’ve come up short a couple of times, but improvements are being made and we’re right there.”

Clark, who never lost four straight games at Iowa, echoed similar sentiments Monday.

“We were right there,” she said. “You got to keep your head up, but you also have to get a fire within you that is upset, and not OK with losing four straight to open the year. I think our group has that.

“But also, there’s a sense of, you know, this is helping us get better. There’s going to be a time this season where it really shows that these four games we opened the season with, and it’s going to pay off.”


Storm rookie and Croatia native Nika Muhl, who missed four games because of visa issues, is reportedly expected to be available Wednesday.

©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



blog comments powered by Disqus