Patient and meticulous, Caitlin Clark ready to be NIL 'guinea pig' for Iowa women's basketball

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Caitlin Clark wasn't counting down the seconds until midnight Thursday, nor did she have any grand announcements to make hours into this illustrious NIL era. And as for the email address in her Twitter bio designated for business inquiries? Well, Clark doesn't even have access to that inbox yet.

Already one of the louder voices associated with NIL progress, Clark will likely have opportunities coming from all directions as the nation adjusts to this seismic shift in college athletics. The Iowa women's basketball star checks all the marketable boxes and has plenty of spotlight experience. Yet Clark isn't planning to pounce on every name, image and likeness chance just because she can.

She's ecstatic for the opportunities, no doubt. But Clark is willing to be patient and selective in navigating this complex element very much in its infant stages. 

"I know there have been some emails, and I've gotten quite a few DMs on Twitter and Instagram," Clark said, roughly 12 hours into the first day college athletes can profit off their name, image and likeness. "I'm definitely not in a rush to sign anything or do anything. Just kind of feeling out my options is the route I'm going right now and see how that plays out. 

"We've got plenty of time. This isn't going anywhere."     

As coach Lisa Bluder and Iowa's entire women's basketball program become acquainted with this new world, there's perhaps no better face to guide this march than Clark.

More:Name, image and likeness: Huge changes ahead could bring big-dollar opportunities for Iowa athletes, businesses

The former Dowling Catholic standout and five-star prospect experienced a long stretch in which countless voices were trying to pull her in a variety of directions. A heightened recruitment was the perfect warmup for handling NIL inquiries. Not to mention Clark just finished a decorated freshman season that had her front and center from the opening game. 

"I think this is going to present some really cool opportunities," Clark said, "and I think I'm going to be picky about what I do. I don't have the time to do everything, and I don't want to do everything. And my focus is obviously basketball. I want to take this team to a Final Four. I still have school to go to. So it's just adding another thing on top of everything else I'm already doing. But I have a lot of help behind me, and I'm super grateful for that."

Clark's teammates will certainly be watching her journey closely. NIL opportunities are bound to come for the rest of Bluder's bunch, given how much the state embraces Hawkeye women's basketball and the way Iowa has reciprocated that with quality seasons and stars. But those around Clark know she's been at the forefront of this issue for some time and is bound to receive the most NIL traction. 

"Caitlin is kind of our guinea pig," forward McKenna Warnock said. "Everyone wants to talk to her about it first, and then she comes to us and tell us how it works. I like it that way. It is very different, especially being able to be yourself and be out there on your own. I'm really happy to see where it takes women's basketball."  

Bluder is, too, amid the vast learning process that's unfolding nationwide. As much as Iowa has spent time readying its athletes for the NIL era, its coaches need to be up to speed as well. That's with current players, recruits and prospects being pursued.

There's pride taken in having a marketable program like Iowa has. The team benefits from one of the country's stronger women's basketball fanbases. The Hawkeyes' core values won't change, even if the money coming in will.   

"The things we just caution our team about is basketball and academics are first and foremost. And if you're not good in those two areas, nobody is going to want your name, image and likeness anyway," Bluder said. "So do your best on the floor, off the floor and that will probably make you a little bit more marketable. 

More:Iowa women's basketball standout Caitlin Clark selected to USA Women's U19 World Cup Team

"I'm really proud of Iowa. I think we're so far ahead of this. We had an hour workshop (Wednesday) with compliance and men's basketball to help prepare everyone for this. They're just ready. And I also think in recruiting, we can be very marketable. In this community as well as we draw, kids can make money here. And why not if they can?" 

What the first NIL opportunity involving Iowa women's basketball will look like remains to be seen. With more than 45,000 followers on Instagram and another 11,000-plus on Twitter, Clark's first deal could likely involve social media in some way. Athletes offering up sponsored posts and deals with video-sharing apps dominated the early portion of NIL opening day. 

Clark will undoubtedly have a slew of options. She's more than content with observing before committing.  

"It's definitely strange in a way," Clark said. "This is uncharted waters for everybody, so there's a lot of questions and not many answers right now. It's going to be like that for a while.

"But it's definitely exciting. I'm really happy for all student athletes. It's a right that we should've had for a really long time, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes." 

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.