NCAA scoring leader Plum happy to see Iowa’s Clark break mark

Michael Voepel, ESPN.comFeb 2, 2024, 07:36 PM ET

CloseMichael Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

As Iowa’s Caitlin Clark nears the NCAA women’s basketball career scoring mark, record holder Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces is applauding the senior guard.

“I’m actually very grateful to pass that baton. I’m very happy for her,” Plum said Friday on a video call from a USA Basketball women’s team camp that runs through Sunday at Barclays Center in New York.

Then-Washington star Plum set the record on Feb. 25, 2017, when she scored 57 points in the Huskies’ 84-77 victory over Utah in Seattle. She finished her college career with 3,527 points. Clark is currently at 3,424 and is averaging a Division I-leading 32.1 points per game.

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The No. 3 Hawkeyes face Maryland on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Fox), and if Clark maintains her current scoring average, the record will come Feb. 15 when the Hawkeyes host Michigan.

Plum was the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick by San Antonio in April 2017 and has won the past two WNBA titles with the Aces. She also won a gold medal with the United States’ 3×3 women’s hoops team at the Tokyo Olympics and now hopes to make the 5-on-5 team for the Paris Games this summer.

She said she recalls the chase for the NCAA scoring record — she broke the mark of 3,393 set by Missouri State guard Jackie Stiles in 2001 — as being a stressful time.

“I remember, to be honest, [the record] was very much a low point in my life,” Plum said. “It felt like a lot of pressure, and my identity was kind of caught up in that record. I hope everyone in the media takes time to understand that [Clark] is not just a basketball player but a young woman that has feelings and emotions. She carries it with grace, but there’s a lot to handle there.

“If anything, make sure that we show her love outside of her performance. She’ll break it. I’m excited for her.”

Clark often has referenced both Plum and New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who set the NCAA record for triple-doubles (26) while at Oregon from 2016 to 2020, as players she has watched and admired. Both Plum and Ionescu were No. 1 WNBA draft picks, and Clark is expected to be in April if she declares. Because of the COVID-19 waiver for 2020-21, though, Clark could return for a fifth season at Iowa. Players have until 48 hours after their last college game this year to declare for the draft.

Whether Clark goes to the WNBA this year or not, is there a chance she could play with pros this summer on the Olympic team? Over the past 20 years, USA Basketball has taken three WNBA rookies to the Olympics: UConn’s Diana Taurasi (2004) and Breanna Stewart (2016) and Tennessee’s Candace Parker (2008).

However, the next U.S. training camp is April 4-7 in Cleveland, coinciding with the women’s Final Four. Thus, any college players playing in the Final Four couldn’t take part with USA Basketball unless their teams lost in the semifinals and they joined the camp late.

“There’s definitely been some consideration about inviting college kids to [April’s] camp,” U.S. national team selection chair Jennifer Rizzotti said Friday on the video call. “When we invite people, sometimes it’s an eye to the future. It’s giving them that exposure. It’s something we’ve done in the past.”

Asked about the potential impact of a college player going pro this summer or opting to stay in school, Rizzotti said she didn’t think that would be a factor in making the Olympic team.

“If they decide to return to college, we’re not going to hold that against them,” she said. “We want to be looking for the very best of the best. We know that there’s a huge jump from college to the WNBA.”

That’s the obvious obstacle for any current college player trying to make the U.S. team for the 2024 Games. The Americans — going for their eighth consecutive Olympic gold — have an enormous amount of talent vying for the 12 Olympic spots.

That’s true at all positions including guard, despite five-time Olympian Sue Bird’s retirement in 2022 after two decades playing point guard for Team USA. The current veterans at guard in this week’s camp include three from the two-time WNBA champion Aces: Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray. Plum and Young were both on the 2020 3×3 gold-medal squad, while Gray was on the 5-on-5 team. Gray is rehabbing a foot injury suffered in the WNBA Finals but is still at the USA camp.

Among the other guards at the camp are five-time Olympian Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Tokyo Olympians Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm), Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics) and Allisha Gray (Atlanta Dream). Gray was on the 3×3 team.

Also in the camp are guards Ionescu, Rhyne Howard (No. 1 pick by Dream in 2022) and Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas Wings) plus guard-forwards Kahleah Copper (Chicago Sky) and Betnijah Laney (Liberty).

Following this training camp, 12 players will be selected to represent the United States at the 2024 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Feb. 8-11 in Antwerp, Belgium.

Team USA coach Cheryl Reeve said it’s up to the selection committee to pick the players for the upcoming tournament and the Olympics, saying her job is coaching.

“I have an opportunity to express what I want in a team and how I want to play,” said Reeve, longtime coach of the Minnesota Lynx. “But we don’t get granular on the personnel. I just want to focus on who ends up on the roster and how can I best position us to be successful.”

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