‘Caitlin Clark effect’ makes waves in DC women’s basketball community

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — There’s a lot of hype around women’s hoops on the heels of the WNBA Draft earlier this week. Coaches, players, and fans in the DMV are feeling what some are calling the “Caitlin Clark” effect.

The college basketball standout from the University of Iowa brought a record-setting number of eyes to the sport this season. She was drafted first overall by the Indiana Fever this week, but her impact already is making waves in D.C.

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Tickets to see the D.C.’s WNBA team, the Washington Mystics, are going quick, team representatives say. It had nine sellouts last year at their home court in Southeast at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The complex can host more than 4,000 fans during its basketball games.

It’ll cost around $300 a ticket to see the team take on Clark and the Indiana Fever when they come to D.C. in June.

“Everybody’s ready for more eyeballs to be on our league, more opportunities for players, more excitement, more money in the game,” said Mystics head coach Eric Thibault.

Rookies in this year’s women’s draft were offered less than six figures to play professional ball this season, compared to the millions offered to some men.

Clark is set to make around $75,000 this season playing for the Fever, with increases to her pay over the following three seasons.

With high dollar endorsement deals on the table and more attention on the sport, women and girls may soon be able to make up the difference.

“A lot of the women we’re seeing now, getting all of this attention coming into this league in the draft are women who grew up with WNBA role models,” said Coach Thibault. “I think it’s hugely exciting. It’s the vision people had for this league when it started. It’s going to make the quality of the play on the court really, really be at a high level.”

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As for the next generation of women’s basketball greats, they’re feeling the excitement, too.

Sidwell Friends School girls varsity basketball head coach Tamika Dudley has seen a lot of success with her Northwest D.C. team since joining the coaching staff in 2019. She’s also an assistant coach with USA Basketball.

She’s had the chance to share in the recent hype and excitement with the girls she coaches, including her daughter, Kendall, a top recruit.

“A lot of our girls are very high-level athletes that spend time getting their games ready for the next level, the next recruitment period. I just think in general there’s a new sense of motivation for these girls,” said Coach Dudley in a one-on-one interview. “It really gives young girls and female athletes something to shoot for.”

She’s had conversations with her athletes about the big money that can come with “NIL” deals, using their name, image, and likeness to partner with brands and companies for endorsements.

Coach Dudley says the prospect of high-dollar deals may have some girls making the wrong decisions about where to take their talents after high-school, especially when WNBA contracts don’t come with super-lucrative payouts.

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She encourages athletes to consider NIL deals when choosing a college or university, but not ahead of academics or athletics.

“There are opportunities for girls to make money outside of their contracts. We definitely don’t want to settle, but it’s a step in the right direction. I think [Clark] is blazing the trail for a lot of girls to come,” said Coach Dudley. “Before there was the WNBA, those opportunities really didn’t exist and now they do. As the years go on and the sport becomes more popular, the money will come with the territory.”

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