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The joy of watching Iowa women’s basketball
And why we might enjoy watching the women's game more than the men's
With all the heart-wrenching stories in the news the past few weeks, what a joy it has been for Iowans to come together and watch a phenomenal Iowa women’s basketball team make its run to the Final Four.
I’ve kept a close eye on this team the past two or three years and I’ve found I enjoy watching the women’s game more than I do watching the men. Turns out there’s a reason for that, which I’ll discuss below.
I wanted to get insight into superstar Caitlin Clark, so I called my sister-in-law in the Washington, DC area. Allison Greene-Sands was a high school standout in New Jersey, played as a small forward at Dartmouth from 1986-90 and played professionally in Europe. She then spent ten years as an assistant coach at Old Dominion. She was on staff when Old Dominion got into the title game in 1997, finishing as the national runner-up. Allison was a recruiter, so I wanted to know what she sees when she’s watching Clark.
Allison says Clark is a combination of two of the best players in the women’s game – Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Bird is the consummate point guard who sees the whole court and makes on-the-money passes. Taurasi has the shooting skill, the ability to take over a game, and swagger. Loads of confidence. Allison says she’s never seen that all in one player. But she sees it in Clark.
“It’s apparent to me, as a coach, she has worked for this,” Allison says. “She’s spent hours in the gym to have the confidence to take those shots. Some of it is a gift. Some of it is pure hard work, dedication. She has physical and mental prowess.”
Allison enjoys watching the Hawkeyes from afar. “What’s special about them is that they all know their role. On any given night, any player can step up. They’re versatile. They’re so in sync they know who has the hot hand. They’re definitely a tight chemistry kind of team. That’s what makes them so dangerous for an opponent.”
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In all my years of watching college basketball, I’ve never seen a player as electric as Clark. You can’t take your eyes off her. I imagine opponents grow weary of the arm waving and fist pumping, but my sister-in-law has a different view. “She’s earned that swagger. She’s not over the top. Some people can look conceited or taunting. She has fun. She never directs anything to an opponent. She’s fun. She brings an energy and excitement to the gym. People are lining up to see her for an away game. She reaches people. She inspires them. She has mass appeal. People appreciate her skill and her presence.”
I asked why I’m enjoying the women’s game more than men’s basketball, and Allison’s answer makes a lot of sense. “The men’s game is above the rim. Women play below the rim. A lot of people can relate to it because you can see yourself do it. Below the rim, you can see the execution of plays, the fundamentals, working as a team. You have to set screens and run the plays.”
Win or lose this weekend, the Hawks are already big winners. Getting to the Final Four is hard. And it’s special. It’s apparent to me that coach Lisa Bluder and her fine staff run a first-class program. She recruits quality young women and helps them achieve their dreams. And Bluder sets a fine example on the sideline, unlike Iowa’s men’s coach. She’s not passive. She works the officials, but she’s never out of control. She’s not getting technicals and not dropping f-bombs on TV. She and her team represent the university and the state of Iowa well.
As we all rearrange our schedules for Friday night so we can watch the game, let’s be thankful that an impressive group of women has brought us together as Iowans. It’s a rare thing these days.
This Friday, March 31st at noon CDT is our monthly edition of the Iowa Writers Collaborative Office Lounge, a Zoom call featuring some of our writers and you, our readers. Our host this week will be Doug Burns of Carroll, who writes The Iowa Mercury. Office Lounge is a benefit for paid subscribers to any of our Collaborative writers. I’ll send out the Zoom link to my paid subscribers on Thursday.
Meantime, enjoy some of the other writers in the Iowa Writers Collaborative: