Caitlin Clark’s Bid for Olympics Roster Spot is Rare for WNBA Rookie

Iowa Hawkeyes superstar-turned-Indiana Fever rookie point guard Caitlin Clark finds herself in rare air before she’s even played a second of pro basketball. The six-footer is poised to begin her WNBA career next month. Per The Associated Press/New York Post, Clark’s first month of WNBA play will essentially function as an audition to ply her wares internationally.

Clark will be unable to partake in Team USA’s training camp preparation ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. The program’s roster will not be determined prior to June 1.

“You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it’s for now or the future,” selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzot told The Associated Press. “We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It’s got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It’s still not going to be fair to some people.”

Team USA is looking for an eighth straight gold medal in Olympic competition. Several more veteran WNBA guards are already in the running, including 2020 Tokyo Olympics competitors Chelsea Gray, Ariel Atkins, and Jewell Loyd, five-time Olympic champ Diana Taurasi, 2022 Finals MVP Kelsey Plum, and rising All-Star Sabrina Ionescu.

Caitlin Clark Iowa
Guard Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes listens as the crowd cheers after breaking the NCAA women’s all-time scoring record during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on February 15, 2024…

Getty Images/Matthew Holst

“Thinking about Diana and Chelsea Gray and when their careers are done, you want to make sure you’re in a position with these upcoming guards with Sabrina, Kelsey and Caitlin that you feel good that our future is set,” Rizzotti reflected, quickly lumping in Clark with this group of more established folks.

The Associated Press notes that a prior WNBA rookie-turned-eventual-superstar, now-New York Liberty power forward Breanna Stewart, was the last first-year pro to qualify for Team USA with the Olympics, though she had made the Americans’ World Cup team as a sophomore at the University of Connecticut.

The declaration of Clark for this year’s WNBA draft was in itself a bit of a surprise, as she could have enjoyed more visibility by sticking around in Iowa for her fifth and final season of collegiate eligibility in 2024-25. When a preferred Clark destination in the Indiana Fever (which also, by the way, boasts another All-Star talent in 2023 No. 1 draft pick Aaliyah Boston) suddenly got the top pick in this year’s draft, she made the jump.

Clark’s addition to the WNBA and Team USA could greatly behoove both those organizations, although, as Margaret Fleming of Front Office Sports reports, women’s basketball has been steadily on the rise stateside in recent years, even beyond the advent of Caitlin Clark games. Last summer, the WNBA enjoyed its best Finals viewers in 20 years, a 36% uptick from 2022. The 2023 regular season was also watched more than any regular season in 21 years and had more in-person attendance than any year in the previous 13. Average ticket prices are already seeing massive upticks ahead of the 2024 season. Overall, average prices sold leaguewide are up 129% since 2023.