Iowa star Caitlin Clark, like Steph Curry, has redefined what a good shot is in basketball

DALLAS — There are times, occasionally during games and often during practice, when Iowa coach Lisa Bluder’s jaw drops.

Did Caitlin Clark really just hit that shot, thread that pass or finish that layup in transition?

Yes, she did and she does — regularly. And it’s just as spectacular as you can imagine. Maybe more so.

Clark, the 2023 consensus national player of the year, has become one of the sport's biggest stars and walking highlight reel because of her how-did-she-see-that?! passes and unlimited shooting range. But for as talented and awe-inspiring as Clark herself is, Bluder deserves some credit too. Because she lets Clark be exactly who she is.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark poses for a photo after accepting the Associated Press Player of the Year award at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark poses for a photo after accepting the Associated Press Player of the Year award at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

But as Bluder herself admits, it took time to cede control.

“Her freshman year, I definitely had some times I was pulling my hair out,” Bluder said said Thursday, as Iowa prepared to take on overall No. 1 seed South Carolina in  one of two Final Four games Friday night.

“There's no doubt about it. She had to learn how to play with other players that were good players. In high school she had to do it all on her own. I remember going to her high school games and kids yelling ‘overrated!’ to her from the stands. I just would love to see them today.”

Like Curry, Clark has 'separate set of rules'

Clark is often compared to NBA All-Star Steph Curry because of their shared, seemingly limitless range. But the 6-foot junior is similar to the Golden State Warriors star in another way, too: She thrives because she has freedom. Bluder understood early that with a player of Clark’s caliber, a controlled offense was not the way to success.

“We had to learn — it was give and take,” Bluder said. “It wasn't all controlling what she did because I think, when you try to stifle somebody like that, you're ruining a little bit of the type of player they are. What she does on her own is special. If you were trying to tell her exactly what a good shot is — what a good shot for her is totally different than what a good shot for somebody else is. So she has a little separate set of rules, quite honestly, than other people because she can do things other people can't do.”

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr had to learn to do the same with Curry.

In 2021, Kerr told radio hosts Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto of 95.7 FM The Game, “He was taking shots that — in my basketball blood — every coach I ever had would have a heart attack watching those shots. I had to get over what was instilled in my brain about what was a good shot and what was a bad shot. With Steph, you have to understand, part of what makes him so powerful is that he’s going to steal the ball at midcourt and pull up from 40 feet."

Steph Curry’s dad Dell Curry, who played 16 years the league and is the Charlotte Hornets all-time leader in points and 3-point field goals made, told USA TODAY Sports he sees the similarities in his son and Clark, too.

“That freedom, it starts with trust — your coach trusting that you’ve put in the work and that for you, those are good shots,” Dell Curry said. “I always say, we have a lot of shot-takers in basketball. We need more-shot makers. To make those shots, obviously not everyone has that fortitude. But in the way that Steph has changed what’s a good shot in the NBA, she has absolutely done the same in the women’s game.”

Iowa's Caitlin Clark (22) shots over Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod during their Sweet 16 game in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
Iowa's Caitlin Clark (22) shots over Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod during their Sweet 16 game in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

'People forget' Clark's passing ability

Bluder knew she was getting a special player when Clark showed up in Iowa City. But even she finds herself rendered speechless sometimes.

“I call them ‘oh wow’ moments and we get a lot of ‘oh wow’ moments with her,” Bluder said after Clark scored 31 and dished eight assists in Iowa’s 97-83 win over Colorado in the Sweet 16.

“These passes that she does, it doesn’t surprise us in games because she does them all the time in practices. She’s an amazing passer and I think sometimes people forget that. They talk about her range, her shot release and stuff. But it’s her passing, I think, that’s makes her the most spectacular player that we have in America right now.”

Clark deserves credit too, for her maturity and growth from last season to this one. She’s noticeably better at recognizing when she’s not hitting and dialing back her shot attempts, instead feeding teammates who are hot. Her turnovers are down and assists up, as she better understands who can catch what and where. The extra 10 feet on the college court has also played a role, because Clark has more room to work.

Sometimes Bluder can’t help but enjoy the show. When Clark tallied a triple-double in Iowa's regional final defeat of Louisville with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, the 23-year veteran Iowa coach stood on the sideline, trying to hide the smile playing at her lips. She knows that what she’s watching is rare, and she better live in the moment as much as anyone.

Now, for the best part: Clark’s brilliance will be on display on college basketball’s biggest stage this weekend, and many are sure to watch.

They’re in for a show. And they have Bluder to thank.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iowa's Caitlin Clark, like Steph Curry, has redefined basketball rules