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Caitlin Clark announces she will enter this spring’s WNBA draft

Caitlin Clark announces she will enter this spring’s WNBA draft

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 2

Iowa star Caitlin Clark, the all-time top scorer in NCAA women’s basketball, will enter this spring’s WNBA draft.

Arguably the biggest star in college basketball this season among men or women, Clark is expected to be selected first in the draft. The Indiana Fever holds that pick after winning the WNBA’s draft lottery in December.

Clark, 22, is in her senior season with the Hawkeyes, but she had the option of returning for another year. The NCAA granted an extra season of eligibility to most athletes on college rosters in 2020, when the pandemic scrambled the world of sports.

“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 said Thursday in a social media post sharing her announcement.

Iowa, the nation’s sixth-ranked team, has one game left in its regular season, a highly anticipated home matchup Sunday with No. 2 Ohio State. With Clark drawing sellout crowds to the Hawkeyes’ games, including away dates, ticket prices were already sky high for the game against the Buckeyes.

Her announcement could make a seat Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City an even more coveted prize, particularly given that Clark is just 18 points away from breaking the all-time Division I scoring record set by LSU’s Pete Maravich from 1967 to 1970.

Clark is coming off yet another milestone performance, a 33-point outing Wednesday at Minnesota that allowed her to break a pre-NCAA scoring record for women’s major college basketball set by Kansas’s Lynette Woodard from 1977 to 1981. Clark has 3,650 career points, while Maravich’s mark sits at 3,667.

Following Sunday’s contest, Iowa is set to compete in the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament in Minneapolis. The Hawkeyes will then move on to the NCAA tournament. They lost in the championship game last season to LSU.

The WNBA draft will be held April 15 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Perhaps anticipating the inclusion of Clark, the league announced that, for the first time in eight years, its draft site will make space for approximately 1,000 fans to attend. The Fever has the top pick for a second straight year, having used its selection last year to draft South Carolina star Aliyah Boston.

Just a few years ago, turning professional would have been something of a no-brainer for a college athlete of Clark’s massive popularity. But the newfound ability for Clark and others to profit while still in college off their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights has altered those calculations.

It is unclear how much Clark is making or how joining the WNBA could affect her NIL deals. Under the WNBA’s salary structure (via the database Spotrac), this year’s No. 1 pick is slotted to make $76,535 this year, rising to $85,873 in 2026.

Weighing Clark’s NIL earnings against what she will make in the WNBA is also a guessing game. There’s very little public data on what college athletes earn through NIL, whether they do so with major brand deals (like Clark) or donor-funded collectives (most commonly football and men’s basketball players).

Since schools and conferences are not yet allowed to pay athletes directly, college athletes pull a $0 salary from the organizations they represent. This means that any projection of Clark’s earnings at Iowa has to start there. And conceivably, maybe aside from very specific cases, her brand deals should carry into her pro career, leading to a significant change in her financial equation.

At Iowa, that equation was a $0 salary plus brand deals with Nike, State Farm and many other companies. In the WNBA, it should be an actual salary plus all of those deals, plus any more she might sign by playing in a new market and in a professional league.

One could argue, however, that playing a fifth year at Iowa would maximize an opportunity that will never come again. She has regularly sold out arenas, at home and on the road. Looking at her decision through a financial lens, would it make sense for her to stay in that environment and keep accruing deals that would also carry into her pro career? Perhaps. But she’s built a strong portfolio in college, which should grow when she becomes one of the biggest names in the WNBA.

A 6-foot guard, Clark is averaging an NCAA-leading 32.2 points per game, well ahead of the 28.2 posted by Southern California freshman JuJu Watkins, who herself is far above the No. 3 scorer, Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo (23.7). Clark also leads the nation in assists per game (8.7).

“It is impossible to fully express my gratitude,” Clark said Thursday in her statement, “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,” she continued. “Because of all of you, my dreams came true.”

Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.

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