Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese hope to carry over college momentum to the WNBA

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NEW YORK — Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and a deep WNBA draft class hope the momentum they created lifting women’s college basketball to new heights carries over to the pros.

“We’re not just basketball players, we’re super impactful to the community, the people around us, the little kids that look up to us, and being able to also be nationwide, everybody knows us everywhere we go,” Reese said Monday night after the Chicago Sky selected the former LSU star with the No. 7 pick. “Our lives aren’t normal. We might get a little bit of normalcy going into the league now, but I’m just excited to be a trailblazer. I’m excited to be a part of history, and just continue to see the future, and I know it’s bright.”

They’ll need to perform on the court for that momentum to continue at the next level and boost the league, which is coming off its own strong year. The WNBA just had its most-watched season in 21 years, averaging 462,000 viewers per game across ABC, ESPN and CBS.

The league also had its most-watched Finals in 20 years, which featured Las Vegas and New York and was won by the Aces. Viewership was up 36% from the previous season. The league’s attendance rose 16% — its highest figure since 2018. Throw Clark into the mix and that number could grow exponentially.

The potential impact of this draft class wasn’t lost on WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“I would be remiss not to mention the incredible excitement and energy for women’s basketball that this group has helped build,” she said. “It’s so clear that this draft class is entering the WNBA at an incredible time. We are witnessing a transformational moment in sports that we may not experience for generations.”

Clark, who finished her collegiate career as NCAA Division I all-time scoring leader, has helped bring millions of fans to the women’s game with her signature shots from the midcourt logo and dazzling passing ability. The Iowa star was a big reason why a record 18.9 million viewers tuned in to the NCAA championship game, which the Hawkeyes lost to unbeaten South Carolina.

“It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around,” Clark said of the ratings, which peaked at 24 million viewers for the title game.

Clark, who grew up in Iowa, said after being chosen by the Indiana Fever with the No. 1 pick that she was happy to go to another basketball-crazed state.

“I can’t imagine a more perfect fit, a better place for me to start my professional career, an organization that really just believes in women’s basketball and wants to do everything the right way,” she said. “So I couldn’t be more excited to get there.”

The Fever taking Clark had been a foregone conclusion since she announced on Feb. 29 she would turn pro. Nearly 17,000 tickets were claimed to watch the draft at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, home to the Fever and the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

The ticket site StubHub said it already has seen a huge surge in demand for tickets, with overall sales for the Fever up 13 times over last year’s start. The team still hasn’t said how many tickets it sold this season.

Clark and Cameron Brink, who went No. 2 to the Los Angeles Sparks, have said many times that it would be wrong not to honor those who came before them and helped paved the way.

“I just want to continue the legacy of growing the sport, and I feel like I’ve said this a lot today, but we really have to look back at the women before us, and I know people keep saying this is a historic draft class, but there were many, many talented draft classes before us,” Clark said.

“I just want to give my props to the Dawn Staleys, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslies because they are why I’m here, because I watched them growing up. I just hope that I can continue that legacy for younger girls.”

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball

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