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Caitlin Clark seeks fast WNBA start, like Missouri Sports Hall of Famer Betty Lennox

A handful of games into its 28th season, the WNBA is ascending. Record viewership is seeing high quality of play. Weekly engagement with the league reached an all-time high late last season, and this was while Caitlin Clark was still in college.

Betty Lennox loves what she’s seeing and feels like something of a proud parent when she considers her role in WNBA history.

“I think we set that tone, set the stage, people like myself and so many others,” said Lennox, who was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at Union Station last weekend.

In 2000, as the WNBA was beginning its fourth season, Lennox was the Minnesota Lynx’s first-round draft pick, sixth overall, out of Louisiana Tech. She was an immediate star, averaging 16.9 points and winning Rookie of the Year.

Those who saw her play at Fort Osage High, where she averaged a double-double during her All-Metro senior season, weren’t surprised. Lennox attended Butler County Community College, then Trinity Valley in Texas, where she won a junior college national championship before enrolling at Tech.

After her WNBA fast start, Lennox, through trades and dispersal drafts, wound up with the Seattle Storm in 2004. That team, which included Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, captured the WNBA Championship. Lennox was named the series MVP.

Lennox retired in 2011, logging 12 WNBA seasons and averaging 12.1 points per game. During her career, Lennox played overseas in seven seasons. At one point, she had a job at the General Motors Fairfax in Kansas City to supplement her income.

Last season, WNBA players averaged about $147,000 in annual salary. The league is working on chartered flights for its teams.

“They’re getting so much more than what we got,” Lennox said. “It’s still not enough, in our opinion, but we are so proud to be part of the growth.”

Clark’s arrival to the WNBA along with LSU’s Angel Reese, plus South Carolina coming off an undefeated national championship season, has helped drive popularity in the women’s game, and Lennox is here for it.

“I think Caitlin Clark has done a phenomenal thing for the women’s game,” Lennox said. “It’s undeniable. You also have to look (at) others. Look at what (coach) Kim Mulkey has done at LSU. She was my coach at Louisiana Tech. Look at Dawn Staley and what she’s done at South Carolina.

“You got to give them credit.”

Lennox serves as the director of women’s basketball and a trainer at HomeField, a training facility in Kansas City, Kansas. She wasn’t surprised at Clark’s pro start. In her first three games, she’s averaged 17 points but also seven turnovers and spoke of the game’s increased physicality after a recent loss.

You could almost see Lennox nodding.

“I tell my kids all the time, two things change when you go to the next level, no matter what that next level is,” Lennox said. “It’s physicality and speed. College players don’t quite understand what the changes are at that level.”

Lennox managed the college to pro transition about as well anyone could. She called being named WNBA Rookie of the Year one of her most satisfying accomplishments.

“I set my goals early, before what I knew the competition would be like,” Lennox said. “For me to be able to win that ... winning the (WNBA) championship was the most important — but my rookie year, that was my favorite.”