“Our circle can’t be bought”: Iowa HC Lisa Bluder reveals what it takes to play for Caitlin Clark’s Hawkeyes amid transfer portal havoc

“Our circle can’t be bought”: Iowa HC Lisa Bluder reveals what it takes to play for Caitlin Clark’s Hawkeyes amid transfer portal havoc


NCAA WomenNCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament – Final Four Previews

Unlike many other programs, Lisa Bluder’s Iowa did not lose much of its roster following its appearance in the national championship game last season. While starters Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock graduated, the Hawkeyes stuck with the same roster this season.

Head coach Lisa Bluder said in a recent interview that the Hawkeyes women’s basketball circle needs you to be special to be part of it. The program has over the years been conscious of upholding its recruitment values and Bluder believes it’s a way to guard the circle.

“I think you have to be really special to come into our program. We don’t invite just everybody into our circle. Our circle can’t be bought. It can’t be a thing where you can offer so much money to be a part of our circle. Our circle is really, really special and we’re guarding that.”

Lisa Bluder says Iowa values its people

At a time when players can be easily lured from one program to the other in the collegiate athletics landscape, Iowa women’s basketball isn’t witnessing a high turnover. Lisa Bluder believes this is because the program respects and values everyone within it.

“People are valued in our program,” Bluder said. “I think if you treat people right and they understand how important they are to your success, they genuinely feel like they’re a part of it. I think they’ll stay, I really think it’s as simple as that. It sounds very simple but it is.”

While Iowa players are not moving out via the transfer portal, the program isn’t also acquiring through the same medium. Many expected the Hawkeyes to replace Czinano and Warnock via the portal last year. However, the team stuck to its roster for its new starters.

Nobody saw Iowa in the Final Four once again

Lisa Bluder says her team has triumphed against the odds this season. The coach believes nobody saw them returning to the Final Four this season but there they are with Caitlin Clark working magic.

“When we were here last year, nobody thought we’d be here again this year,” Bluder said. “And we didn’t listen to anybody. We just listened to the people in our locker room and our family and our circle, and here we are again. So I’m proud of the women and how they kept believing no matter what.”

After reaching the national championship game last season, there were questions about whether Iowa would be able to sustain their success. However, the program has shown its resilience throughout the season and is once again up for the national championship title.

Why Caitlin Clark’s WNBA transition won’t be all layups and easy passes


The next chapter in Caitlin Clark’s career will no doubt be more demanding, and it’s coming sooner than most college athletes experience in their transition to the professional level.

The Indiana Fever are expected to select Clark with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), a short eight days after Iowa lost to South Carolina in the national championship game in Cleveland. The turnaround to the WNBA season is also quick; training camps open April 28 and the season tips May 14.

“Rookies go into the WNBA, which is such a challenging time, at their most exhausted time,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said ahead of the national championship game. “That’s a little bit kind of unfair for them.”

Clark played 39 games in five months during her senior run to the national title game after making the championship game as a junior. After about a month break in game action, the two-time Naismith winner will play 26 games with the Fever over nine weeks leading into the Olympic break, which begins July 21. The Fever play 14 games over the final five weeks from Aug. 16-Sept. 19. Indiana should be in playoff contention, which would extend Clark’s season further.

By the time Indiana’s season is done, she will have played almost non-stop for a calendar year. That’s not unusual in women’s basketball because players historically played domestically in the WNBA and overseas in the offseason to supplement their incomes.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 07: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes works to shoot around Sania Feagin #20 and Raven Johnson #25 of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament National Championship at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 07, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. South Carolina beat Iowa 87-75. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

You can be sure WNBA veterans are waiting to welcome Caitlin Clark to the league. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

But it does make for a long stretch as younger players adjust to the talent at the professional level. Clark will face stronger, more physical defensive pressure than she did most of her college career. UConn point guard Nika Mühl’s full-court defense, South Carolina’s frontcourt height and West Virginia’s team effort gave her a taste of that in the tournament.

“I just know that Caitlin has stepped up to every challenge that we’ve posed to her,” Bluder said. “And I expect the same thing at the next level, although I know it’s going to be … she’s going to have to pay her rookie dues.”

Those rookie dues were highlighted during the Final Four, when Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, said of all incoming rookies that “reality is coming.”

“There’s levels to this thing and that’s just life,” Taurasi said on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt. “We all went through it. You see it on the NBA side, and you’re going to see it on this side where you look superhuman playing against 18-year-olds, but you’re going to come with some grown women who have been playing professional basketball for a long time.”

Taurasi is entering her 20th season and came into the league as a national superstar from UConn with three national championships, two Most Outstanding Player awards and two Naismith trophies.

The three-time WNBA champion has been in the league long enough to see decades of rookies learn to adjust to higher, more concentrated competition levels. Her comments were never solely about Clark. WNBA players often cite Taurasi in their “welcome to the league” stories. She famously made this point about rookies in May 2020 on the “A Touch More” Instagram Live series with Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.


“Everytime you play rookies, you just want to f***ing kill them,” Taurasi said. “It’s just physically punking them. It’s this mental bullying that’s taking place right before the ball goes up. And it happens in different ways. It happens in like, ‘Oh, you had such a great senior year, I’m about to bust your ass right now.’”

Clark, who led DI in scoring and assists three times each at Iowa, isn’t likely to average 30 points a game like she did in college, but she could be one of the game’s best passers as a rookie with Aliyah Boston in the paint. Turnovers might be a bigger problem. Her situation is similar to that of Sabrina Ionescu, who also took time to adjust to the WNBA game, although Ionescu also dealt with a nagging ankle injury her first two seasons.

“Not saying it’s not going to translate, because when you’re great at what you do, you’re just going to get better,” Taurasi said. “But there is going to be a transition period where you’re going to have to give yourself some grace as a rookie, and it might take a little bit longer for some people.”

Clark never seemed bothered much by the constant attention as she skyrocketed to national fame over the last year. She will continue to carry the load as the face of a league, at least to the millions who tuned into women’s college basketball for the first time and plan to follow her to the WNBA. That attention, which led to endorsement deals, kept her on the go last summer and will keep her busy throughout the year. Hundreds of media members are expected at the draft, which will host fans for the first time since 2016. The crown remains heavy.

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