Iowa's Caitlin Clark will soon be the NCAA's all-time scoring leader in women's basketball. That, in many minds, is enough to put the 22-year-old Iowa star among the greats of college basketball.
But even after passing Kelsey Plum atop the NCAA women's list and perhaps Pete Maravich on the men's side, does Clark need a national title to stand alongside the likes of Cheryl Miller, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Chamique Holdsclaw?
“I do think she'll be up there,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “I do.”
Clark, who's averaging 32.1 points this season, has 3,520 career points and needs eight more to pass Plum’s record of 3,527 for Washington from 2013-17. The milestone is all but certain to happen Thursday night when Clark and the Hawkeyes host Michigan.
Clark also could pass Detroit Mercy's Antoine Davis (3,664 points) and perhaps even Maravich, who put up 3,667 points for LSU in three seasons from 1967-70.
Staley was national player of the year while helping Virginia to three Final Fours from 1989-92. But she finished her college career without a title, something she believes should not take away from what Clark has accomplished.
The 22-year-old Clark excels in an era when the women's game is bursting with growth and new fans in the arenas and on TV, Staley said.
“Even the ones who are just starting to see her will be talking about her greatness,” Staley said, “and that's something some of the other greats didn't have.”
Pearl Moore, like Staley a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, remembers too well how few people paid attention to the women's game when she played at Francis Marion in the late 1970s and became the most prolific women's scorer in history.
No matter where Clark finishes this season, she's unlikely to catch Moore's mark of 4,061 points from 1975-79. Moore's total is not recognized in the NCAA's scoring list because she played in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
No matter, she said: Clark has brought the game to a bigger stage. “It's great to see so many people paying attention,” Moore said.
Former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who won two NCAA titles in 2001 and 2018 with the Fighting Irish, believes Clark has established her spot, whether she and the Hawkeyes win the national tournament or not.
The lines of fans, young and old, can be both a joy for Clark to draw from or an added level of pressure for her to live up. The greats, McGraw thinks, have that will to succeed within them no matter if there are millions, thousands or dozens watching.
“She has definitely met the moment,” McGraw said.
Clark has seemingly kept a rational perspective publicly about chasing a championship. Iowa reached the title game a year ago by beating Staley's undefeated, No. 1 Gamecocks, 77-73. But they were beaten soundly for the championship by LSU, 102-85.
Afterward, a visibly upset Clark said she wanted her legacy to be on her young fans and the people of Iowa. “I was that young girl,” she said. “All you have to do is dream and you can be in moments like this.”
Clark has a staunchly loyal fanbase that will rise to her defense, something four-time WNBA champion and three-time league MVP Sheryl Swoopes found out this past month. Swoopes, who led Texas Tech to the 1993 national title, mistakenly pointed out that Clark should've broken Plum's record in four seasons when Clark actually will surpass Plum in fewer games.
Swoopes went on to say Clark dominates as “a 25-year-old playing against a 20-year-old.” Iowa responded with a fact-checking post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that detailed Clark's career.
College basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli sees similarities in Clark's game and ability to improve the play of those around her to many of the greats who have NCAA titles including Miller of Southern California, Swoopes and Taurasi of UConn.
“The point is it's not like the super teams of the Connecticut and Tennessee era,” Antonelli said. “There were great players on all those teams but not one that has done what Sheryl Swoopes has done, what maybe Caitlin can do.”
The basketball world has noticed. Four-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP Steph Curry of Golden State has enjoyed watching Clark's quick release on her shot and her stellar floor game.
“You can't help but watch where she's shooting from, the range, the confidence, the flare,” Curry said. “She's a performer.”
Antonelli and McGraw agree that Clark is more than just a deep 3-point shooter. Antonelli said Clark has worked during her time in college to make herself unguardable. McGraw sees Clark as an accomplished passer; she moved past 1,000 assists — just the third ever to accomplish that among women — in a loss to Nebraska last Sunday.
“I don't understand why more teams don't double her," said McGraw, always the coach. “Who do you think's going to take the shot?”
Author Joanne Lonnin, who wrote “Finding a Way To Play: The Pioneering Spirit of Women in Basketball,” has followed Clark's rise and chase of the scoring crown. Is she among the greatest?
“I think an interesting question: Is her star going to continue to shine?” Lonnin said.
Clark has penetrated most every social media platform and even casual sports fans know who she is, Lonnin said. “If she does well in the pros, she'll continue to be a household name" and enhance her stature among basketball's best.
Clark has a personality tailor-made for people to connect with for years to come, Lonnin said. “She exudes confidence and I think she's really brought the women's game to another level of what's expected."
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball