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Be like Caitlin: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is inspiring a younger generation of players

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CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) — Caitlin Clark makes pulling up from the midcourt logo look easy, routinely hitting shots most players would consider a heave.

The Iowa star’s deep range has expanded the scope of possibilities for up-and-coming women’s basketball players, much the way NBA star Stephen Curry changed the men’s game more than a decade ago.

“Guys will say the game is not as fun to watch, but Caitlin Clark is fun to watch,” said Shay Ijiwoye, one of Arizona’s top high school players and a Stanford commit. “I think she’s inspiring a lot of young kids my age, older, younger, that you can have that confidence and do it just as well as any guy could.”

Clark’s ability to shoot 3-pointers from midcourt logos at arenas across the country has changed the sport and the perception of it.

The 6-foot senior from West Des Moines became Division I’s all-time leading scorer this season — a 3-pointer clinched it — a first-team All-American and has filled up the record book during one of the best careers in women’s college basketball history.

Clark’s reach has gone beyond the basketball court in the form of endorsement deals and fan interest, everyone wanting a part of the transcendent player.

Young female players want some of her game, too.

Clark’s shooting from well beyond the college 3-point line — the NBA line, for that matter — has been unlike anything seen in the women’s game before. Combined with her confidence, court vision and awareness, work ethic and team-first mentality, Clark has set a standard that’s hard for young players to miss.

“She’s part of the dialogue when players are talking about a logo 3 or a great pass she made in transition and uncanny ability to answer the bell in the biggest moments,” said Sue Phillips, coach of powerhouse Archbishop Mitty High School in California and USA Basketball.

“I think that really speaks to that innate ability as well as the time she’s put in. And this just doesn’t happen by accident. It’s clear she’s worked on her craft.”

Nearly every player in Division I basketball was the best on their team in high school. At the college level, the players are bigger, more athletic, so scoring doesn’t come quite as easy.

Clark has the scoring part down, but with the all-around game to go with it. She’s a superb passer with a high basketball IQ, the type of player who seems to see things before they happen. Clark also isn’t afraid to mix it up on defense, sets screens and is an excellent rebounder — all things coaches can point to for younger players.

“It’s a good model to show all the other girls coming up like, hey, you don’t have to just shoot 30 times a game,” said Tony Darden, Ijiwoye’s coach since second grade who runs Darden Sports Skills Academy. “You have to learn to do other things because when you get to that next level, everybody else is going to be able to score just as good as you. How are you going to stand out? She’s (Clark) taken it to a different level.”

Off the basketball court as well.

As Clark has become the face of women’s basketball, her face is everywhere. She has lucrative NIL deals with Nike, Gatorade, Buick and was featured in a State Farm commercial with Jimmy Butler and Reggie Miller.

Clark’s endorsement deals, along with those of several other prominent women’s players, are like golden carrots for up-and-coming players, incentives for what’s attainable with hard work and the right image.

“It’s just so cool to see on your TV every day and knowing that a women’s basketball player is doing that,” Ijiwoye said. “It’s motivating for me knowing that it could be me one day if I keep working at it and stay on my Ps and Qs.”

Now, about those logo 3s.

When Curry started pulling up and routinely making shots from the midcourt logo, scores of players across the country extended their ranges with the Golden State Warriors star.

Clark’s deep shooting has opened a new realm for women’s players, taking what players like Sabrina Ionescu did at Oregon and pushing it farther out.

But with it comes an adjustment period.

Just because Clark can shoot from the logo doesn’t mean everyone can. She’s spent years working on her shooting form and strength to hit shots that were considered heaves not all that long ago.

It’s not easy, even with practice, which is why Darden has his players start at the basket and work their way out to promote good shooting form.

“Kids seeing it don’t see her work beforehand,” Darden said. “So for us as coaches, we have to definitely emphasize you’ve got to start inside, work your way out. That’s the gap between being a good shooter and a great shooter.”

Clark is no doubt a great shooter, maybe the best in the sport’s history. But she’s also got the entire package, pushing interest in all levels of the sport.

“I don’t know if we have data to back that up, but I can tell you we do have more kids willing to work on their skill set to build on that,” Phillips said. “I do see that there’s more motivation, based on what they’re seeing on social media and TV, that there’s a lot more opportunities to see games being played. It’s great.”

So is Clark, which is why so many young women want to be like her.

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