Caitlin Clark, Dawn Staley differ on claim to GOAT status

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By jeenmediaa

CLEVELAND — Iowa guard Caitlin Clark said Saturday she doesn’t think it’s a “fair assessment” to say that she needs to win a national title to secure her legacy.

As she and the Hawkeyes have made their march to the national championship game Sunday against South Carolina, a debate about her place in the sport’s history has become a hot topic. It boils down to this: Is a national championship required to cement “Greatest of All Time” status for the all-time NCAA Division I men’s and women’s scoring leader?

“I’ve played basketball at this university for four years, and for it to come down to two games and that be whether or not I’m proud of myself and proud of the way I’ve carried myself and proud of the way I’ve impacted people in their lives, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment,” she said during a news conference.

“I don’t want my legacy to be, ‘Oh, Caitlin won X amount of games,’ or ‘Caitlin scored X amount of points.’ I hope it’s what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball. I hope it is the young boys and young girls that are inspired to play this sport or dream to do whatever they want to do in their lives. For it to come down to 40 minutes and for me to validate myself within 40 minutes, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley sits on the other side of the debate. She had a remarkable college career at Virginia, going to three Final Fours, winning two Player of the Year Awards and setting the NCAA record for steals at the time.

So she has a unique perspective, and reflected on her own career at Virginia from 1989 to 1992 during her pregame news conference.

“I was really good in college, never won a championship,” Staley said. “You’ve got to win a championship. That’s me personally. I had a great career. But it’s always, did you win a championship?”

Staley pointed to comments UConn forward Breanna Stewart made in a recent interview with SiriusXM Radio, in which she said Clark needed to win a championship to be in the conversation among the game’s greats. Stewart led UConn to four national titles from 2013 to 2016 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — women’s basketball player of all time.

“You are going to look 10 years back and you are going to see all the records that she has broken, points and stuff like that, but anybody knows your goal when you play college basketball is to win a national championship. So you need one,” Stewart told Sirius XM.

Staley agreed.

“I agree with Stewie when it comes to winning the championship,” Staley said. “We’re going to talk about GOATs. I think she’s the GOAT, to be able to win four national championships and to be MVP. I think she was MVP all four times.”

Staley pivoted the conversation to Clark, who became the all-time NCAA Division I men’s and women’s scoring leader this season and has won numerous Player of the Year honors over the past two seasons. Charting her course through the NCAA record book has drawn widespread attention, interest and record television ratings.

Last season, the two teams met in the national semifinals and Iowa won, as Clark scored 41 points against the vaunted South Carolina defense.

“If Caitlin wins the championship, she’s pretty damn good, yeah, like, she’s a GOAT. I mean, she’s really damn good regardless. But winning the championship would seal the deal. I hope to the dear Lord she doesn’t,” Staley said.

As for what it means for women’s basketball to have this rematch on this stage, Staley said, “It’s a monumental game for our game.

“We’re very fortunate to be a part of it. We get to witness firsthand the legacy of Caitlin Clark. You watch her. You prep for her. You can’t help but to really love how she dissects the game. You love how she executes. Her game is simple and yet powerful. How do you defend fundamental basketball with offense with fundamental defense? You can’t. She’s going to win every time.

“So you’ve got to show her different looks in order for her to not settle in and picking you apart. But we also have to play our side of the ball. We got to defend. We got to put some points on the scoreboard. I hope it’s the most watched game. I’ve been a part of witnessing from the outside looking into the most watched game. It’s going to be fun to hopefully be a part of it.”

Clark said she understands being in the spotlight means additional debate about her place in history. But she also doesn’t want to participate in it as she prepares for her final game at Iowa before moving on to the WNBA.

“When you’re in the spotlight like this, there’s going to be a million different opinions on you,” she said. “For as many people that are going to love you, there are going to be people that don’t like you. That’s the case with every professional athlete, men or women, playing at the highest stage.

“I think what I’ve been able to do over the course of my career is just focus on the opinions of the people inside our locker room. That’s what I really care about, the people that I love to death, the people that have had my back every single second of my career, have been the ones that have believed in me more than anybody.”

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