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WNBA: Inside Caitlin Clark's first week in WNBA with Indiana Fever...

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Published Time: 21.05.2024 - 11:06:57 Modified Time: 21.05.2024 - 11:06:57

But this chapter of Clark's journey so far has an aura of unfamiliarity compared to her storybook run at Iowa in which the Hawkeyes fell just short of winning the national championship the past two seasons. The Fever are 0-3 heading into Monday's rematch against the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Two of their losses were blowouts. WNBA



Stephen A. Smith details all the reasons why he isn't worried Caitlin Clark's slow start to her WNBA career. (2:30)

Like moths to a light, fans from various at Barclays Center descended upon Clark, following her along the rail as she made her way toward the tunnel. Young kids and adults, wearing Fever and Liberty gear, called her name, hoping to be the next fan to get a selfie or autograph.

But this chapter of Clark's journey so far has an aura of unfamiliarity compared to her storybook run at Iowa in which the Hawkeyes fell just short of winning the national championship the past two seasons. The Fever are 0-3 heading into Monday's rematch against the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Two of their losses were blowouts.

And individually, Clark, who never lost three consecutive games at Iowa, has had her ups and downs as she has struggled with physicality, playing with new teammates and facing better defenses. She's the fourth player in WNBA history to tally 50 points and 15 assists in her first three career games, but she has also committed 21 turnovers, the most through a player's first three games in league history.

Exacerbated by a brutal schedule that's particularly unforgiving for a young, inexperienced squad, the adjustment to the WNBA is playing out just as legends Sheryl Swoopes and Diana Taurasi warned it would. Exactly as Clark herself, as well as Indiana's coach and general manager, had acknowledged would be the case.

"I know the outside world thinks I'm going to do some amazing things, but that might take some time," Clark said Tuesday morning, prior to her first regular-season game.

"This is the professional league," teammate Kelsey Mitchell said Saturday. "I don't know what expect or what they're looking for. But [coming together as a team] is going to take a little time."

Illustration by ESPN

CLARK WAS BURSTING with excitement in the lead-up to her pro debut against the Sun. She'd played in Indiana's preseason games, but this was the real deal, she said. It was setting in how lucky she is to have this as her job, and she said she was restless waiting for the 7:30 p.m. tip.

"This is definitely up there with some of the best moments of my life, for sure," Clark said prior to Indiana's 92-71 loss.

She knew teams would be physical with her. In going up against not just two of the top three squads in the league this past week, but specifically two of the top defenses, Clark was hounded by premier perimeter defenders in Connecticut's DiJonai Carrington, an early candidate for WNBA Most Improved Player, and New York's Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, a two-time All-Defensive team selection.

When it wasn't those two, former MVP candidate Alyssa Thomas helped get Clark into foul trouble, or Sun guard Rachel Banham bodied her sliding across the paint as a help defender as Clark went up for a layup. On the other end of the floor, two-time MVP Breanna Stewart set a brick wall of a screen Saturday that sent Clark to the floor.

1:37Caitlin Clark underwhelms again as Fever fall to the Liberty

Caitlin Clark scores nine points as the Indiana Fever fall to the New York Liberty 102-66.

Coming off a 22-point performance against the Liberty on Saturday -- the best scoring outing Clark has had as a pro, as well as her most efficient (9-for-17 from the field) -- Clark is averaging 17.0 points on 40.0% shooting (32.1% from 3), to go along with 4.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 7.0 turnovers.

That would be considered a "great" start for any other player, Fever coach Christie Sides said prior to Saturday's game. The expectations are just that high for Clark, and by extension, the Fever.

"When I'm looking at all these things that are talking with Caitlin Clark, it's like guys, chill out. She's going to be fine," Sun coach Stephanie White said Friday. "It's two games in. Are you kidding me?"

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Beyond Clark, Indiana -- which is seeking its first postseason since 2016 -- has struggled with both its offensive and defensive execution. Thursday's 102-66 loss to the Liberty marked the franchise's largest defeat in nearly three years and the second-largest loss in a home season opener in WNBA history. Sides was left lamenting her team's lack of mental toughness and pride, especially in front of the 17,000-plus fans who filled Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

In the midst of such extraordinary attention and pressure, Fever veteran Erica Wheeler -- who as a point guard has taken Clark under her wing -- advised teammates to stay off social media. As they strive to hold one another accountable in-house, she said, they must "stay together no matter what."

Clark's frustration has been obvious at times. At the end of the first half against the Sun, she argued with an official a no-call before Sides got between them and nudged Clark away. Teammate Aliyah Boston walked off the court at halftime with Clark, grabbing her by the arm as she explained why she might not get those calls and told her she has to be calm and aggressive and "be you."

Two days later, as Clark exited the Fever's home loss to the Liberty -- she was held to single-digit scoring, which happened only once in 139 games at Iowa, during her freshman season -- a clearly irritated Clark dourly high-fived staff and teammates before taking a seat on the bench.

Yet when asked Saturday to describe how things are going so far, Clark responded, "It's been fun, honestly, like, this is what you signed up for." These early games are ripe for learning opportunities, she said, and she relishes the opportunities to play in front of big crowds in new arenas in the best league there is.

"We all want to win, that goes without saying," Clark said. "But at the same time, there has to be some sort of positivity or you're really going to lose yourself."

0:17Caitlin Clark gets leveled by a Breanna Stewart screen

An unsuspecting Caitlin Clark barrels into a hard Breanna Stewart screen, briefly sending Clark to the floor.

THINGS REMAIN A whirlwind. Outside of the games, there are shootarounds and practices, film sessions, media availability and travel (both by charter and commercially, though the league moves to full-time charter this week). When asked by a reporter whether she has been able to settle in to Indianapolis at all, Clark said, "Not really," before adding she hopes to make it to the city's Zoobilation, a black-tie fundraising event in June at the Indianapolis Zoo. Soon, she'll finally get to move out of a hotel and into an apartment.

Saturday's loss to the Liberty seemed like a step in the right direction. The Fever played with more pace, which helped the offense flow better. Clark thought she was more active on that end, too. She balanced some 3-point makes with getting downhill to the rim -- her nine field goals surpassing the seven she'd made in her first two games combined -- while her eight assists were her most so far.

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