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Caitlin Clark looks like a natural as Fever introduce WNBA’s top draft pick

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark, middle, poses with general manager Lin Dunn, left, and head coach Christie Sides today.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark, middle, poses with general manager Lin Dunn, left, and head coach Christie Sides today.

INDIANAPOLIS >> When Caitlin Clark walked to the dais today in Indianapolis, she looked like a natural.

The former Iowa star and WNBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick eagerly discussed the impact a new television deal could have around the league. Clark outlined her goal of helping the Indiana Fever end a seven-year playoff drought, talked about being “terrified” of her Saturday Night Live appearance, even teased Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton about attending her rival school, Iowa State.

Still, Clark made one thing clear — she feels right at home in Indiana.

“It definitely played a huge role,” she said during her introductory news conference, explaining why she opted to leave school after making two straight national championship game runs. “I was hoping Indiana got the first pick, it made my life a lot better. So I was pretty excited. I was just ready for a new challenge in my life.”

Some of what happened was expected today.

Clark received a standing ovation from her new teammates and the overflow crowd of team employees while sitting between general manager Lin Dunn, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, and coach Christie Sides, who has four Final Four appearances on her resume. Clark’s parents were seated in the front row, right next to former Fever star and Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings.

And as she peered into the crowd, Clark almost certainly noticed the red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “And with the first pick in the 2024 WNBA draft Indiana Fever select Caitlin Clark.”

But the 30-minute question-and-answer session also revealed a different side of Clark.

She ditched the carefully crafted answers about her professional ambitions, which followed Clark relentlessly through her final college season. Instead, she showed a humility that could help the potentially game-changing star’s transition from the college level to the pro game.

“It’s not all about me,” Clark said. “It’s not everything I have to do and when I’ve been able to understand that, it’s allowed me to play my best. I think it’s just using your resources, asking questions, knowing everything’s not going to be perfect and giving myself a little grace. I’m definitely a perfectionist, but I’m at my best when I allow myself to have a little grace and not expect everything to go exactly how it should.”

Indiana certainly has big expectations for Clark, the greatest scorer in Division I history, after nearly 17,000 tickets were distributed for Monday night’s draft watch party at the Fever’s home court, Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Her logo 3-pointers and uncanny passes also helped draw a record 18.9 million viewers for last week’s title game against South Carolina.

That interest is expected to continue.

League officials already have announced 36 of Indiana’s 40 games will be shown on national television, Fever ticket sales have spiked and two-time defending league champ Las Vegas has moved its game against Indiana to a venue with roughly 6,000 more seats.

Not surprisingly, some of the city’s top athletes including Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson, and Haliburton, have welcomed Clark to town.

“She’s one of the faces of women’s basketball and for her to be here, under the same roof, it’s really exciting for me and I think a lot of people in our organization,” Haliburton said. “I just look forward to watching her grow through the process, watching her get better and looking forward to actually being able to cheer for her now.”

Clark didn’t stick around long today.

Following the morning news conference, she and her parents headed home to Iowa. Clark is expected to return for the start of training camp as she continues to pursue her degree.

When she does return, Clark will be teaming up with forward Aliyah Boston, last year’s unanimous pick as WNBA Rookie of the Year, a combination that has Dunn, Sides and Fever fans all smiles.

Clark is expected to make her regular season debut May 14 at Connecticut and her home debut May 18 against New York.

“Win a lot of games to start, she’s going to help us with that,” Sides said, expressing the goals. “It’s incredible to have someone like her join our team. We established a great culture last year, laid a great foundation and to have someone like her and her awesome support staff, her family, added to our family, it just puts us in a whole different ballgame.”

Even if Clark’s whirlwind season still sometimes feels surreal.

“I think the biggest thing I’m trying to remember is how grateful I am to have this opportunity. You know there’s so many people who would kill to be in my shoes,” she said. “When things seem like they’re long, you’re tired and you feel like I have to do this, I have to do that, I try to remind myself how grateful I am to get these opportunities. I’m lucky to have these moments.”

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