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Iowa's Caitlin Clark on entering WNBA draft: 'My focus is here'

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Caitlin Clark: Making WNBA decision now puts weight off my shoulders (1:38)

Caitlin Clark discusses the timing of her decision to enter the WNBA after the season and the support she has received from her family and teammates. (1:38)

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark said before this women's basketball season started that she would trust her instincts when it came time to decide on staying for a fifth year in college. She said Friday that that's exactly what she did.

At Iowa's news conference looking ahead to Sunday's senior day in Iowa City, Clark spoke about how she made the choice to leave Iowa after four seasons and enter the 2024 WNBA draft, and why she announced it on social media Thursday.

"Getting the weight of the world off my shoulders and being able to enjoy this last month with my teammates is the biggest thing," Clark said. "I kind of knew in my heart. I've gone back and forth a little bit, especially early in the year.

"As the season played out, it became clearer to me. I kind of knew what was going to be the right step for me, and obviously I had a lot of support system around me, and my family and friends. I think everybody supported my decision, and that's reassuring."

Because of the COVID-19 waiver the NCAA extended to all student-athletes who competed in 2020-21, Clark -- a freshman that year -- had a fifth season of college eligibility left. But during this season, in which she become the major-college women's scoring leader and is closing in on passing the NCAA men's mark, too, Clark said she realized it was time to move on.

She didn't specify a day or week that she made the decision but just said Friday that she has known "for a little while."

"You weigh the pros and cons, and there's pros and cons both ways," Clark said. "What we've been able to do here is so special, and that's not over. But I think I'm ready for the next chapter in my life, too.

"I've had quite a few conversations with our coaching staff, and they were always very supportive and helping me to try to understand both sides. I know a lot of Iowa fans may be a little bit sad, but for the most part, it seems like everybody is just very appreciative of what we've been able to do over my four years. And that means the world to me. Hopefully, we can go out the right way and just keep winning basketball games."

Iowa's Lisa Bluder said that although there was some disappointment for her simply because she would have liked to coach Clark for another season, she understood the decision.

"She's a tremendous player, and we would have loved to have her come back," Bluder said. "But also, our job is to have them for four years and support them as best we can and try to prepare them for the next chapter in their lives. Her four years is up, even though she could have come back for another year. She's ready for a new challenge."

Clark is the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, which is April 15 in Brooklyn. For the second season in a row, the Indiana Fever will choose first; last year they selected South Carolina post player Aliyah Boston, who was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year.

The fit for Clark with the Fever, who last made the playoffs in 2016, seems perfect. On Friday, though, she didn't specifically address Indiana or the WNBA, mostly keeping her comments to her time at Iowa, her teammates and the decision she made.

"Obviously, my focus is here," she said. "My goal is to win a national title, that's plain and simple. And to be honest, I'm not really looking that far ahead to the WNBA."

Clark also said she didn't want Sunday's senior day celebration -- which will be after the No. 6 Hawkeyes host No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten regular-season champion -- to be about "will she stay or go?" That's part of why she opted to announce her choice when she did.

She wants her teammates who also will be honored Sunday -- Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall, Molly Davis and Sharon Goodman -- to get some spotlight, too.

"They need to be celebrated the same way that I will be," Clark said. "I want it to just be a celebration of what we've been able to give to this program and what we've been able to do."

During Clark's career, the Hawkeyes have won two Big Ten tournament titles and made it to the NCAA championship game for the first time, losing to LSU last year. Clark's popularity has extended to the team, as Iowa has sold out its home arena for every game this season and many road games have been sellouts, too.

Clark is the reigning national player of the year, an honor she seems sure to repeat this season. She is the first Division I women's player to have at least 3,000 points (3,650) and 1,000 assists (1,049).

Asked whether she felt herself playing a little more freely now with the choice behind her, Clark said, "Anytime you make a big decision and you're confident in it, that's just kind of what happens.

"And I think that's my biggest focus going into the rest of the year: Just smile, have fun, play free. That's really when I play my best basketball, so I'm excited."