Caitlin Clark’s next big move could be helping Indiana Fever end seven-year WNBA playoff drought

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — John Meinen has been an avid Iowa basketball fan for decades.

The 61-year-old former hoops player never lost touch with the sport, his home state or his beloved Hawkeyes’ men’s or women’s teams, even after moving to Indianapolis.

So with the Indiana Fever expected to draft Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 overall pick Monday night, Meinen can’t hide his excitement over seeing the potential of a game-changing player suddenly making the Fever relevant again after a seven-year playoff drought.

“She’s Bob Cousy meets Steph Curry. I mean there just hasn’t been anyone, certainly in the women’s game, who plays the way she does,” Meinen said. “I don’t know her, I’ve never met her, but she seems like a very nice person. The other piece of it is she’s got a little Taylor Swift in her because girls just look up to her.”

He’s not alone.

Fever guard Erica Wheeler told social media fans Clark was the real deal after attending one Iowa game in February 2023. Another Fever guard, Grace Berger already knows Clark’s scouting report after chasing her around Big Ten courts for three seasons.

Neither had any idea back then, though, that the Fever would win a second straight draft lottery that would allow them to team up with the 2023 unanimous rookie of the year Aliyah Boston and the greatest scorer in Division I history.

This young, star-studded combination suddenly makes last season’s 13-win team a must-watch team, a title Indiana last held during Tamika Catchings’ final season in 2016.

So fans in Indianapolis and around the Hoosier State are focused on how quickly Indiana can rise in the standings and become a legitimate contender.

“I think she’s in the right situation here,” Meinen said. “Indiana is all about basketball, they’re going to embrace her. They have a good young core. I think the future’s very, very bright for this team.”

Clark’s transformation from generational college superstar to becoming the face of a WNBA franchise has been eagerly anticipated since Clark and the Hawkeyes started selling out arenas while getting record TV ratings over the past two seasons.

That is expected to continue at the pro level.

While the Fever have declined to release ticket sales or merchandising information — or discuss expectations for Clark on the court — because she is not yet officially on the team’s roster, that has not stopped other teams from promoting their matchups against Clark.

Two-time defending WNBA champion Las Vegas already has announced the Indiana game on July 2 will be played at T-Mobile Arena, which seats about 6,000 more fans than its traditional home venue.

The Phoenix Mercury also have dubbed the June 30 date against the Fever as “ The GOAT vs. The Rook,” capitalizing on a seemingly thinly veiled rivalry between Diana Taurasi and Clark.

“Reality is coming,” Taurasi recently said on ESPN. “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.”

How quickly and smoothly Clark adapts to bigger, stronger, more experienced opponents is a serious concern.

While most evaluators believe Clark’s shooting and passing skills will travel to the WNBA, there are questions about her defense and how the 6-foot, 155-pound point guard will deal with established stars unlikely to give the newcomer the red carpet treatment.

She’ll also have only a short break between the end of a demanding 39-game schedule that included becoming the focal point of every opposing defense and a highly publicized record-breaking scoring quest, and the mid-May start of a 40-game WNBA schedule. Playing on the U.S. Olympic Team also remains a possibility, too.

“I know what’s next is soon,” Clark said after losing Sunday’s NCAA championship game, which Meinen watched on his phone just before the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat tipped off in Indy.

Life certainly is coming at Clark quickly.

Indiana opens preseason play May 3 at Dallas with the regular-season opener set for May 14 at Connecticut. If all goes as expected Monday, Clark’s home debut would come May 16 against New York, last season’s WNBA runner-up.

For women’s basketball fans, Clark’s pro career can’t start soon enough. And in Indy, Clark looks like the perfect answer for a franchise that’s had 58 wins in the past seven seasons.

She’ll learn the rookie ropes from a poised point guard such as Wheeler while teaming up with Boston, forward NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2022, and shooting guard Kelsey Mitchell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2018.

“I don’t know if they’ll make the playoffs right out of the box,” Meinen said. “She’s going to make them better. She’ll make them instantly more fun to watch. You can be really fun to watch, and it doesn’t mean that your game translates into wins. But I think she’s going to be really, really good. I just can’t imagine that she’s not going to be good.”



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