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Sue Bird Says Caitlin Clark Can Be a W.N.B.A. All-Star as a Rookie

Caitlin Clark’s transcendent play, from her logo 3-point shooting to her unique skills as a “get ahead” passer, has captivated basketball fans from Maine to California. A question that often arises is how will her game translate to the next level. In a wide-ranging 60-minute interview that will air in full Thursday on the “Sports Media Podcast,” WNBA legend Sue Bird said Clark can be a WNBA All-Star in her first year.

“I think if she plays up to her potential, yes, that’s realistic,” Bird said. “And, by the way, that’s not a knock on anyone in the WNBA. It’s going to be hard, but I think she can do it. You do have to see what happens when they get there. You are now playing against adults and this is their career. But I do think she has a chance at having a lot of success early, and I think a lot of it comes down to her long-distance shooting. That is her separator. You’re not really used to guarding people out there.”

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Bird went on to say that the era Clark is stepping into helps complement her style of play. Another WNBA legend, Diana Taurasi, “could have been playing the way Caitlin is playing right now,” Bird said, but did not come of age in an era to play the way Clark plays today.

Players in the WNBA just aren’t used to guarding shooters that far, Bird said. Bird retired in 2022 after a 20-year WNBA career.

Clark has the option to return to Iowa next year due to the extra year of eligibility thanks to an NCAA waiver for student-athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But if she opts to go pro and is selected by the Indiana Fever with the No. 1 pick, “that is a really good roster for her,” Bird said.

“She’s going to be teaming up with right out the gate with two really good post players (Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith) that are going to complement her,” Bird continued. “There is precedent for people coming out of college and coming in and playing amazing, players such as Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and others. But she still has to come in and do it and there’ll be some growing pains just like all those players I just listed had.”

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Bird spent time with Clark last December in Iowa City as part of an episode of her ESPN+ Original series,“Sue’s Places,” a 10-episode college basketball travelogue produced alongside Omaha Productions and Words + Pictures that features Bird darting across the country to learn about the history and traditions of college basketball. (The Clark episode ran on Feb. 14.). The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes will next play at No. 14 Indiana on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, Peacock).

Asked why Clark had captured the imagination of the broader basketball public during her time at Iowa, Bird said it was a combination of her long-distance shooting and being one of the faces of women’s college basketball during such an ascendent time.

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“There are two that stand out the most with her, and let’s start with her long-distance shooting,” Bird said. “The one thing that cancels out people’s obsession with dunking as it relates to the comparison between men’s and women’s basketball is deep shooting. If we want to call it the logo 3, let’s call it that. For whatever reason, men in particular, they don’t hate on it. There’s nothing to hate on because it is what it is. So I think that part of her game lends to people cheering for it. I think it’s also captivating, right? The way that she plays with the long-distance shooting, it’s captivating. Everybody’s interested in it. So that’s one part of it.”

Bird added: “I think the other part is that women’s basketball is having a moment and that moment needed somebody to team up with it. So Caitlin, based on just the year in which she was born and doing what she is doing in college right now, is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this moment. There are other players right now in college basketball where you can feel excitement. JuJu Watkins is killing it at USC and could arguably end up being one of the best players ever. I’m not saying that loosely; it’s because of the way she is starting her career.”

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Clark’s decision about whether to leave Iowa has become a major debate in sports media and among sports fans. Recently, former WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes discussed that potential rookies like Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese will take time to develop in the WNBA because it’s a veteran-heavy league.

When asked what she would do if she were Clark, Bird did not hesitate.

“If I am Caitlin Clark, I am coming out of college,” Bird said.

Required reading

(Photo: Morgan Engel / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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