Few athletes have had the kind of impact on a sport that Caitlin Clark has had on women’s college basketball.
She hits logo threes as easy as layups. Her Final Four games with the Hawkeye women’s basketball team scored record TV ratings. She’s often compared to four-time NBA champion and fellow freeshooter Steph Curry.
She’s also an honors student majoring in marketing at the Tippie College of Business.
We know what she’s like on the court—a tough-as-nails, thread-the-needle passer who shoots from anywhere with a joy and energy you can feel through the TV screen. But what’s she like when not playing hoops? When she’s in class in the Pappajohn Business Building, or hanging out with her roommate, Hawkeye guard and fellow Tippie marketing major Kylie Feuerbach? How does she indulge her sweet tooth?
ON CHOOSING TIPPIE
Clark wasn’t sure what her major would be when she came to Iowa. Psychology? Business? So many choices. What clinched it for her was Nancy Abram’s Intro to Marketing Strategy class. (1)
(1) Nancy Abram, associate professor of practice in marketing, taught Clark in Fall 2022, the 50th anniversary of Title IX. She pointed out that without that law, we would be deprived of seeing Clark’s wizardry. “She’s really pushing the sports world forward for women,” she said.
“She brought in a lot of students who worked at places like Amazon and Microsoft who talked about how they got where they are in their career, and a lot of former students who gave us a lot of guidance,” Clark said. “The class focused on problem solving and I love her energy. She really engaged me with marketing.”
Marketing turned out to be a smart choice. Not long after she came to Iowa, new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules took effect that allowed student athletes to make money with corporate sponsorships, personal appearances, and endorsements. Using what she’s learned in class to market herself, she’s signed agreements with Hy-Vee and Nike and hired a firm to manage her business interests. Her life has become a marketing class project.
“I’m working with executives, accountants and marketers, designers, and getting real-world experience strategically engaging with all these people,” she said. “I should get internship hours for living my daily life running my business and brand.”
She picked Iowa in part because it's not far from her West Des Moines home. "I'm a bit of a homebody."
OFF THE COURT
She's taken up baking and cooking as stress relief (brownies, especially) and also likes to hang out by a pool or lake, take walks, and golf. She participated in a PGA Pro-Am tournament during the summer, golfing alongside former Master's and British Open champion—and self-described world's biggest Hawkeye fan—Zach Johnson.
Clark said her academic achievements are as important to her as her athletic accomplishments. An Academic All-American, she is on track to graduate with an undergraduate degree in marketing and minor in communication studies. Clark will finish her coursework in the fall with Business Communication and Protocol (BCAP), a couple of marketing classes and some gen eds. She knows that someday she’ll have to hang up her Nike basketball shoes for the next stage in life—and she needs an education to be ready for that. Given her experience, she thinks something in sports management makes sense, or maybe even team ownership.
An honors student, she has the same drive to succeed in the classroom as on the court.
“I can’t not give it my all,” she said. Her academic performance puts her on the Dean’s List, but not the President’s List. “I don’t have a 4.0,” she said, ruefully. “I wish.”
Clark is the third Tippie student to be named the national basketball player of the year in recent seasons, following Megan Gustafson (BBA19), a finance/marketing/psychology major, in 2019 and Luka Garza (BBA21), an economics major in 2021.
ON STAYING GROUNDED
The Wooden Award. The Naismith Trophy. Associated Press Player of the Year. The Wade Trophy. The Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. The ESPY for Best Female College Athlete. How does she keep it all from going to her head? How does she stay humble?
She said her family makes it a point not to treat her like a celebrity and holds her to the same standards they always have. Her coaches and teammates show her zero deference and give her as much grief as they give each other. Fellow students and faculty treat her
like most anyone else in class. If she has a group project to complete, she’s expected to carry her weight. (2)
(2) Heyong-Tak Lee is an assistant professor who had Clark in his Marketing Research class during the Spring 2023 semester, when the team made its run to the Final Four. But that didn’t stop her from participating in the class as much as she could. She took her midterm exam the day after the team returned from winning the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis. She could have begged off and taken the test some other time, but she didn’t. “She never acted like someone who was a celebrity and winning a lot of national awards,” he said. “She’s humble, personable, and a good person.” He said the person you see in interviews—a smart, funny, team player who deflects attention from herself—is the same person he sees in class.
Most of all, what keeps her head on straight is the starstruck kid handing her a scrap of paper and a pen because it was just a few years ago that she was that starstruck kid, asking a college or WNBA or NBA star to sign her scrap of paper. She remembers how great she
felt getting that autograph, and how easy it is for her to make a kid feel the same way.
She's not in it for the glory.
"I'm not in it for the celebrity or the rings or the championships, or to give sportswriters storylines. That's just the stuff that comes along with it. I play basketball because I love it."
ON HER PUBLIC IMAGE
Clark says she is by nature a positive person, deflecting attention to her teammates and saying nice things about her opponents before the game starts and after it ends. She insists her thoughtful, upbeat, and diplomatic public comments are about more than media coaching. That’s just how she is.
She said that comes from her family. Her parents told her to be kind and treat others as she wants to be treated. Keep the trash talk on the court. (3)
(3) “She’s just a really smart person,” says Cathy Zaharis, emeritus professor of practice in finance and long-time courtside season ticket holder who taught the team how to dine properly in a professional etiquette class early last season. She said that what’s most impressive is Clark’s willingness to use her stardom as a platform. She builds the women’s game every chance she gets, signs every autograph, and she partnered with Coralville Food Pantry to raise more than $75,000.
“She asks herself, ‘How do I use my voice where I have one?’” Zaharis said. “’How do I use my platform to create opportunities that are bigger than playing basketball’?”
“That’s how I was raised,” she said. “Treat everyone with kindness and respect and be my genuine self. This is who I am.”