Caitlin Clark arrives in Indy with great expectations

Apr. 17—INDIANAPOLIS — Electronic billboards across the city welcomed Caitlin Clark to her new home Wednesday.

Gainbridge Fieldhouse was even more accommodating, with signage inside the Ascension/St. Vincent's Entry Pavilion celebrating the Indiana Fever's No. 1 draft pick and a gaggle of team employees gathered to greet the NCAA's all-time scoring leader as she stepped into the building for the first time.

But Clark wasn't just inside her new arena. Her image already is plastered on a walkway leading from the parking garage into the entry pavilion.

It's abundantly clear how excited the Fever are about their new point guard.

It also quickly became evident the feeling is mutual.

"I was hoping that Indiana got the first pick," Clark said during her introductory news conference. "It would make my life a lot better. So when I saw that (the Fever won the draft lottery), I was pretty excited. ... To be able to come here and stay in the Midwest — it's only five hours from Iowa City, seven hours from where I grew up (Des Moines, Iowa) — you can't script it any better."

Clark revealed she's already a fan of the Indiana Pacers. Her boyfriend, fellow Iowa alum Connor McCaffrey, joined the coaching staff as a team assistant this season.

She has less of a warm history with Indiana University, her Big Ten rival for the past four seasons.

Clark joked about that past — pointing out former Hoosiers guard and current Fever teammate Grace Berger in the audience — while commenting on the state's love for basketball.

"Women's basketball in this state's incredible," Clark said. "Grace knows that better than anybody else. I hated playing at Indiana, and they hated me."

The last line drew loud laughter from a crowd that included Clark's parents, several of her new teammates, Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett and Fever legend Tamika Catchings.

Clark laughed along with the audience for a moment, and then showed off some of the polish she's acquired from countless media events as arguably the nation's most famous current athlete, transitioning quickly to comment on the number of fans who packed the Fieldhouse on Monday for a draft party hosted by the team.

"I mean, 6,000 people just to sit there and stare at a screen to see who gets picked in the draft is pretty incredible," she said. "So I expect big (attendance) numbers this summer. I think just people couldn't be more excited about where this organization is going and the people that are on this roster and the potential but also just women's basketball in general.

"People know it's special, and people know that this draft class is special — the talent level across the board, I think it's just going to continue to elevate the league and take it to greater heights."

The Clark Effect has already been evident.

Several teams have reported increased ticket sales since the All-American declared for the WNBA Draft, and Monday's draft drew a record television audience of 2.45 million viewers. That's more than four times the size of the previous record.

The Fever are preparing for a major impact on and off the court.

General manager Lin Dunn was Indiana's head coach from 2008-14 and won a WNBA championship with Catchings leading the way in 2012.

She's no stranger to the world's best players, and she believes it's no accident Clark has joined those ranks.

"I just want to say thank you to all the coaching staff at the University of Iowa — Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen — and what a great job they've done with this young lady," Dunn said. "And it's a powerful moment for me because I was a long-time (former Iowa president) Christine Grant fan. I call her the mother of Title IX, and so now we're seeing the fruits of what they did there.

"And then (Clark has) also had a great support system. It's not surprising to me when you've got coaches like them, a family like these people, that she's turned out this well."

Clark has been credited with driving the surge of interest in women's basketball. Her final three games at Iowa are the highest rated women's basketball games of all time, and there are high expectations the 22-year-old can provide a similar boost for the WNBA as it prepares to negotiate a new media rights deal.

She's focused only on her game, of course, but she does understand the importance the league has in inspiring the next generation.

Clark grew up a fan of the Minnesota Lynx — the closest franchise to her hometown — and includes Catchings among her favorite players.

"I think this league is very important," Clark said. "I think having young girls — (and) young boys — seeing women accomplishing really great things at the highest level and showing them that — sport teaches you a lot of life lessons, having young girls involved in sport.

"I think that's the best thing that's happened to me. It's taught me so much more about life than it has basketball. It's brought me a lot of life-long friendships. It's done some really amazing things for my family. It's taken me to some places I never would really have ever imagined. So I think the more eyeballs we can get on this game, the better off this world's gonna be."