Dowling Catholic star Caitlin Clark has lofty goals for her career at Iowa

Matthew Bain
Des Moines Register

Caitlin Clark isn't bashful about what she wants from her career as an Iowa Hawkeye.

The five-star, top-five nationally ranked, McDonald's All-American, Iowa-bound Dowling Catholic point guard said her goals would have been the same no matter which college she picked.

"To win a national championship," Clark matter-of-factly told the Register last Tuesday, like she'd been asked what color the sky is, or what she had for breakfast.

Iowa women's basketball is no stranger to success. It has played in the NCAA Tournament 26 times. It's gone to the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite Eight four times and the Final Four once in 1993.

But it has never won a national championship. It has never advanced to a national championship game.

Especially in the modern age, national titles haven't felt realistic for programs such as Iowa. With the way schools like Connecticut, Notre Dame, Oregon and Mississippi State recruit, they're simply on a separate tier.

A recruit like Clark can help change that, though.

A recruit like Clark can elevate a program like Iowa and make a championship feel like more of a tangible, reasonable, rational ... realistic possibility.

Dowling Catholic senior Caitlin Clark drives to the basket against Waukee on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.

"Caitlin wants to get to the Final Four," said Dickson Jensen, Clark's AAU coach with national power All Iowa Attack. "They’ve got a very legitimate chance. That’s what that program can build. Even (when Clark is) a freshman, that team next year is a Sweet 16-type team. They’ll contend for the Big Ten championship all four years, I guarantee it."

When Clark picked the Hawkeyes over Notre Dame and Iowa State in November, she gave Lisa Bluder and her staff a blue-chip centerpiece to build a potential championship roster around over the next four years.

Jensen has seen all 25 girls who were named McDonald's All-Americans this week. He says with confidence that Clark is the best — that she's the national player of the year.

With that kind of player, the Hawkeyes will likely become contenders for other elite, top-tier recruits during Clark's career, Jensen said.  Adding Clark and the rest of Iowa's 2020 recruiting class to next year's roster projects as a strong group.

Add a couple more five-stars over the next few years? That's how champs are made.

"They’re going to grow something great and maybe have an opportunity to do something here in Iowa that nobody’s done in a long time — get to the Final Four," Jensen said. "She’s not afraid to cut the nets down."

Clark always maintained she wanted to sign with a school where she could play and make an impact right away. While she says that likely would have been the case with any of her final three schools, the timing is almost perfect at Iowa.

It was Megan Gustafson's team last year.

Senior guards Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer have the keys this year.

Then, next year, the door is open for Clark and her state-leading 34.6 points per game to slide into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and start leaving her mark right away as the team's lead guard.

"Obviously," Clark said, "I have to earn that."

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder gives Iowa center Monika Czinano (25) a high-five as she heads to the bench during a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

"Lisa will give (Clark) the ball Day 1. She's going to be an impact player on a national scale Day 1," Jensen added. "Timing is great. The future of basketball for the University of Iowa is really strong."

It helps the future seem bright when Bluder and her staff are in the midst of one of their most impressive seasons of coaching.

Iowa's offense was completely built around Gustafson last year. She was the player of the year and, rightfully so, touched the ball on just about every possession. In many ways, she was Iowa's offense.

This year's offense is completely different. Bluder and her staff have built things around Doyle and Meyer. They're back to running a four-out, read-and-react, perimeter-oriented style. And it's working wonders. The Hawkeyes are ranked 21st in the latest coaches' poll and tied for first in the Big Ten Conference.

"That’s why I chose Lisa. I know she’s a great coach. She’s been in the game for a long time," Clark said. "It just shows that she’s ready for change. She’ll adapt to players. She’s definitely a players’ coach, and I think that’s a huge thing for me. I want to be able to play for somebody that will listen to me and I’ll also listen to them."

Brent Clark, Caitlin's father, is also impressed with how the Hawkeyes are playing this winter. He said he was probably like a lot of people who thought this would be a rebuilding year.

He's confident Bluder and her staff are the right coaches for his daughter.

And not just because of how well they're coaching right now.

They had recruited Clark ever since middle school, but they were never overbearing. They showed consistent interest, but also respected how the family wanted space and room to figure out what was best for Caitlin on their own.

"She wants to help lead (the Hawkeyes) or take them somewhere they’ve never been. I think she should be applauded for those goals," Brent Clark said. "I’m just very proud of her, I know my wife is as well, for maybe ignoring some of the noise that goes on with recruiting and trying to stay in-state and do something special at a state university."

Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

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