Caitlin Clark turns focus back to basketball as training camp opens for Indiana Fever

It was Clark’s crisp passes that took teammates and even second-year coach Christie Sides by surprise.

INDIANAPOLIS — Caitlin Clark got back to the basics Sunday — working out on a basketball court.

Here, as the newest member of the Indiana Fever, she’s learning how she’ll fit into this new offensive system, building chemistry with her new teammates and learning the nuances of what it means to be the WNBA’s highest-profile rookie.

Sure, Clark anticipates some bumps this season; she wouldn’t expect anything less. But giving the sport she loves her full attention is really all Clark ever wanted.

“I think that’s what I was most excited for, getting all that other stuff out of the way,” the former Iowa star said as Indiana’s training camp opened. “The draft was amazing, New York City was amazing, Los Angeles was amazing, but I was excited to get here and get back to playing basketball, you know, doing my job.”

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Over the past two seasons, these WNBA rookies have created the kind of buzz around women’s basketball most fans only dreamed about, and Clark is undisputedly at the head of the class.

Ticket sales increased at every venue she appeared and when Clark’s games were televised, ratings spiked. Her chase of the Division I career scoring record captivated basketball fans across America and she even appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”

Perhaps even more fittingly, the transition from the established stars to newcomers such as Clark officially started the same day another trailblazing performer, Candace Parker, announced her retirement.

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But, like Parker, Clark enters this season with one primary goal: Winning games.

“I think no matter what happens there’s going to be expectations and pressure on my shoulders and pressure on this team to be really good. That’s how you want it,” Clark said. “We wouldn’t want anything else. We want people showing up to our games, people expecting us to win a lot of basketball games this year and I’m expecting myself to play really well. I don’t think it’s anything that’s ever been different for me.”

That kind of talk certainly is new to the Fever.

Indiana hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2016, hasn’t posted a winning season since 2015 and has been mostly irrelevant nationally since Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings’ retirement. Over the past five seasons, the Fever won 28 games.

Iowa, meanwhile, went 65-12 and with two national runner-up finishes in Clark’s final two college seasons.

But the pairing of Clark and Aliyah Boston, the WNBA’s unanimous rookie of the year last season, has turned Indiana into one of the league’s hottest tickets.

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Several opponents already have moved games to larger arenas and Boston, for one, is eager to see how quickly Indiana’s new lineup will mesh. Clark arrived in town early this past week and has been turning heads with her workouts ever since.

“I think Caitlin has a different eye for the game. You’re able to see how well she passes the ball and how well she shoots it,” Boston said. “You see her communicating, you see the way she can find you, I mean her passes are tremendous. I’m like ‘OK, I’ll get a touch, just let me get down there’ just because of how well she passes it.”

Clark’s transitioning from college ball to the pro level may speeding up, too.

For most of the 2 1/2-hour practice open to the media, Clark worked with Indiana’s starters and true to form, Clark lined up one 3-pointer after another including some of those trademark logo 3s.

Still, it was Clark’s crisp passes that took teammates and even second-year coach Christie Sides by surprise.

“Her ability to space the floor for us is just incredible,” Sides said. “We’re going to have five players on the court that can shoot it, but her passing ability — you saw some of the passes she made. I’m more mad at the how many missed layups we had. I think we’re just not used to having those, someone who can make those passes.”

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Clark can make them and will make them, and how the Fever responds to her presence will largely dictate how successful Indiana will be this season.

But the key for Clark will be getting acclimated quickly to a new team, a new home and a new style of play by Friday’s preseason opener in Dallas.

“It’s definitely different, but that’s what you expect when you start a new chapter in your life, she said. ”It’s fast, fast shot clock, but I think all of you know that’s how I like to play. So I think it suits my game pretty well. It’s a fast pace, a lot faster than college and you’ve to learn quicker because you’ve got to get your mind on Friday.”

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