We might as well go ahead and be completely honest about this: Caitlin Clark is a problem.

That’s 21st-century minimalist sports slang for someone so ridiculously good at sports the opposition spends an inordinate amount of time pondering how to deal with the challenge (while fully aware their chosen tactics may fail).

She fits this description beautifully.

Except that’s not what we’re talking about.

She’s a problem for us. The media.

Because when The Sporting News in December presented Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese with our Athletes of the Year award – an honor that previously had been presented to such legends as Lionel Messi, Tom Brady and Jackie Joyner-Kersee – we calculated her scoring average at that point meant she was due to pass Washington’s Kelsey Plum at some point in late February. That allowed plenty of time to plan proper coverage of the occasion.

We neglected one thing: This is Caitlin Clark, for whom not only are records made to be broken, but also the law of averages.

So here she is not even 10 days into the month, and she’s going to get this done.

Caitlin Clark

Like, now. Over the past five games, she has averaged 32.6 points and accelerated the timeline for breaking the record by weeks. If she finished her season with her current season scoring average of 32.2 points a game, it would be the highest for any player in more than 30 years. It is within reach for her to top Patricia Hoskins’ record for the top season in NCAA women’s history.

Plum established her career record of 3,527 points at the close of the 2017 season.

With 39 more points, Clark will become the new leader Sunday at Nebraska. That would mean scoring the big basket on the road. And doing it on Super Bowl Sunday, when it might get lost a bit the cacophony that surrounds America’s premier sporting event.

But breaking that record is such a big deal – it helps that Clark is a Chiefs fan – the most famous player in the Big Game is aware of the milestone Clark approaches.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes told Riley Trujillo of The Sporting News that because of that timing, “I don’t know if I’ll get to see it. But she’s just a tremendous player, a tremendous person.

I’ve met with her and talked. You can tell she loves the game. She loves playing at Iowa. She’s of the best women’s bask – one of the best college basketball players to ever play … I hope I never have to play her on-on-one because she’ll for sure be getting buckets on me.”

Clark was an elite prospect at Dowling Catholic in Des Moines and considered one of the top five players in the 2020 recruiting class.

At some point, the possibility of her becoming an outstanding college player evolved into her becoming an all-time great, a generational talent, someone whose ability and achievements will be discussed in the company of legends Nancy Lieberman, Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Maya Moore.

The inevitability of greatness is revealed at different times to those with different perspectives. Bob Knight proclaimed Michael Jordan’s superiority after coaching him in the 1984 Olympic Trials.

When the Trail Blazers made it clear they were considering the selection of Kentucky big man Sam Bowie instead of Jordan in that year’s NBA Draft because they needed a center, Knight famously told general manager Stu Inman, “So play him at center!”

The Patriots didn’t realize what they had in Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft choice in 2000, until starter Drew Bledsoe was injured in 2001. New England won the Super Bowl that year with Brady at QB, and five more afterward.

We wanted to know when some of those who have watched, followed, covered and coached Caitlin Clark realized she was not just the next great player, but something more. So we asked.

Lisa Bluder, head coach, Iowa women’s basketball

Bluder became Iowa’s head coach in 2000 and immediately reinvigorated the program C. Vivian Stringer once built into a Big Ten power. Bluder’s squad reached the NCAA Tournament in her first season, and 13 more before Clark enrolled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall of 2020.

During Clark’s four seasons with the Hawkeyes, they’ve gone 97-27, a .782 win percentage, and advanced in the NCAAs each year. Last April, they reached their first Final Four since 1993, then upset No. 1 and undefeated South Carolina to arrive in the championship game.

Bluder first saw Clark as a junior high student playing up on an AAU team for older girls. She recognized there was “something special” about Clark not just as an athlete, but as a young person. Even at that age, Bluder immediately had no doubt Iowa would be recruiting her.

Caitlin Clark's Lesson for White Athletes: Don't Be a MAGA Pawn | The Nation

“She looked like the most mature, most savvy basketball player on the court when she was competing against high schoolers,” Bluder told The Sporting News.

“Plus you could just sense her competitiveness and her passion for the game at an early age, which a lot of kids don’t really show it. They might show anger, but they don’t show that passion.”

With age and strength, Clark’s shooting range has increased to where the term “logo three” is now as common in women’s college basketball as the NBA. Even before she legally could drive a car, though, she displayed other talents that now are overshadowed.

“It was her passing and her ability to handle the ball and just command the floor,” Bluder said. “I think that’s what was amazing at a young age.”

Clark began playing at Iowa during a period when crowds were forbidden or limited at various college arenas. She scored 27 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and passed for 4 assists in her first game, against Northern Iowa.

She reached the 30-point mark in three of her next four.

“When she came to Iowa, her freshman year, it was obvious that she had the potential to be one of the best players in America. I’m never going to say that I predicted she’d be the best player in America, but certainly that she’d be challenging for it,” Bluder said.

“Even then, there’s nobody in the stands, and she’s playing then like she’s playing in front of 20,000 people. She’s playing with that kind of tenacity.

“You started seeing the long-range shots and the game winners. That’s when you knew … It’s like the bigger the moment, the bigger she is, which is so counter to what most people are. Some people crumble under the pressure.

You talk to Kelsey Plum, and she says, oh, she felt all this pressure when she was going to break the record. It’s almost like that is not a burden to Caitlin. She’s just going to bust it down.”

Meghan McKeown, analyst, Big Ten Network and ESPN

McKeown was hired as a basketball analyst at BTN in 2020 after she’d worked as local television sportscaster in Indianapolis and then nationally at Stadium and ESPN. Early in her first season calling games, she was assigned to an Iowa broadcast with Lisa Byington as the play-by-play announcers.

During the pandemic, most broadcasters called games remotely. So instead of prepping by attending a practice or shootaround, McKeown and Byington spoke to coaches and players on Zoom calls. Now, Clark was only a freshman, but she had already begun ringing those huge numbers, including 37 the previous game against Minnesota. So they wanted to know more about her and why she was excelling.

“All I had heard about was Lisa Bluder had been saying, ‘We knew she was going to be great, but we didn’t think she’d be this great, this early,’ ” McKeown told TSN.

“So we get on the Zoom with Caitlin, who is 18 years old, and I was blown away by her maturity. She was so poised. She was charismatic. She answered every single question.

Caitlin Clark Is Piling Up Points and Records at Her Own (Fast) Pace - The  New York Times

“One of the biggest critiques she’s had her whole career is the turnover factor, which a lot of it is she’s playing way too fast at times because she’s so much smarter than everybody on the floor.

People can’t keep up with her. But as a freshman, a lot of it was her adjusting to playing with really good players and getting them the ball.

But I remember she hit it head-on: ‘I know my turnovers are really high. I’m working on it.’ She was so honest. My sister is the same age as Caitlin and I was thinking, ‘There’s no way Caitlin Clark is the same age as my sister.’ ”

Clark scored only 8 points in that game against Northwestern, still the only time in her career – 124 games to date – she has been held to a single-figure total.

Because we’re discussing Clark’s approach to a scoring record, it’s easy to forget she’s also generating points as a playmaker. In the next few weeks, she will become the sixth NCAA player to top 1,000 assists.

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, a two-time national player of the year, finished her career with 2,562 points and 1,091 assists just before Clark arrived at Iowa.

As each assist accounts for at least two points, Ionescu generated a minimum of 4,746 points for the Ducks in her four seasons, no less than 40 percent of the offense. Clark has produced at least 5,422 points for Iowa, or 51 percent.

“She understands basketball at a level like a coach does,” McKeown said.

“Talking to Jaz Shelley at Nebraska, who was at Oregon to start her career and learned a lot from Sabrina Ionescu about how to attack certain ball-screen coverages, and reading what the primary defender is doing, how to read the secondary defender – Clark thinks like that.

She’s watching film, she’s reading defense. It’s not just what she’s trying to accomplish as a point guard. She knows what every single player on the floor is doing. She’s like a true quarterback in that sense.”

Kim Adams, analyst, Fox Sports and ESPN

Sunday’s game at Nebraska will be the fifth time this season Adams will be on the national broadcast team for an Iowa game, but this year also provided the first opportunity she’s gotten the chance to see Clark in person.

Even on TV, though, Clark made an impression.

“I think her strength stands out. She can look a little bit slimmer in frame, but I think she’s worked on getting stronger to absorb contact.

Obviously you have to have insane leg strength to shoot at the distance she does,” Adams said.

“And then just her vision: I don’t know if it’s underrated. I think casual fans know her more for the logo 3s, but if you really understand basketball, her court vision — the assists she gets are really elite level, as well.”

When Clark was a freshman at Iowa, Adams admits, she had not paid attention to her recruitment or evaluations. She’d been aware of UConn guard Paige Bueckers, but not the player who would become her rival for freshman of the year in 2020-21.

Caitlin Clark's production and panache make her a women's basketball  ambassador, a role she embraces

“I think it sometimes may be overlooked the insane numbers Caitlin was putting up as a freshman, and she may have been overshadowed a bit just because Iowa – at least then, it’s very different now – wasn’t kind of the national brand-name that UConn is,” Adams told TSN.

“So we were hearing all about Paige and then, all of a sudden, about halfway through the season, everyone was like, ‘Wait, this Clark girl is putting up the same type of numbers as Paige Bueckers. Let’s make sure we’re paying attention to her.

“Once we got to know her as a freshman, all eyes were on her as a sophomore, and she never had any kind of let-up or sophomore slump. People were starting to believe we might be seeing a star here.”

When she’s in the arena with Iowa, Adams can feel the impact Clark has on the assembled fans.

“Any time she shoots it, the arena is on edge, knowing there’s a high probability it’s going in,” Adams said.

“It’s like the arena is holding their breath, waiting to celebrate. You just get a sense at times throughout a game where she’s going to cross halfcourt and she’s looking to pull up shortly after that.

That’s something I’ve never experienced with a player, just the way she can captivate the arena. I’ve had them at home and on the road, and it’s very similar.”

In covering Iowa road games this season, Adams has been amazed at the reception that greets her. “It’s like following a rock star.” She attended the team’s shootaround prior to last Saturday’s Maryland game. Staying in the same hotel as the Hawkeyes, Adams saw more than 100 fans in the lobby waiting for a glimpse of Clark and anything else – An autograph? A selfie? – that might capture the moment.

“I don’t think there’s another athlete across any sport, male or female, this season that has that kind of presence,” Adams said. “It’s insane, what we’re seeing, the level of stardom she has.”‘

Scott Dochterman, sports reporter, The Athletic

In his two decades covering Iowa sports for various publications, including the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Cox Media Group, Dochterman has written about such elite college athletes as three-time NCAA wrestling champion Spencer Lee, two-time Sporting News men’s basketball player of the year Luka Garza, Naismith Award winner Megan Gustafson and 10 consensus first-team All-America football players.

This might be all of that combined.

“They’re Mt. Rushmore-type figures,” Dochterman told TSN. “Yet she is like a Mt. Rushmore all to herself.”

Iowa sold out Carver-Hawkeye Arena on a season-ticket basis in advance of this season.

And her show plays just as well on the road. At Maryland, a Wednesday home game against Big Ten contender Indiana, drew 7,137 to the Xfinity Center.

Three days later, a nationally televised game between the Terps and Iowa was attended by 17,950.

Capacity crowds have become the standard whether at home or on the road; according to Dochterman, 30 of the 32 regular-season games this year will either be sellouts or the largest crowd in the arena’s history for the sport.

Caitlin Clark Leads Iowa to the Final Four, While L.S.U. Gets Past Its Cold  Shooting - The New York Times

“The way she handles herself is like that of a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

Nothing seems to faze her.

No question is too big or too small. The popularity – it energizes her.

The way she conducts herself is like a clinic in terms of marketing and public relations.

“No matter what the environment, she plays just like she does in a gym. She’s the most remarkable athlete, especially at her age, at this level, that I’ve ever seen. Just to be able to handle it so well and yet come across as so genuine.”

Dargan Southard, sportswriter, Des Moines Register

In the phenomenon that has become the Caitlin Clark Cosmos, Southard might be considered an OG.

Given he’s not even 10 years out of college, that might be the only place where such a descriptor would apply, but this is someone who covered her in high school. He saw it early.

“I was too young for Jordan. People keep throwing Pete Maravich references out … I didn’t quite make it in that era,” Southard told TSN.

“But it’s been interesting to see this turn into an other-worldly thing beyond even just basketball.”

What he has been waiting to see since he first observed her deep shooting and dazzling passes, though, was this: “Is the winning going to come with it?”

As a high school player, Clark’s teams at Dowling Catholic did not take the LeBron James/St. Vincent-St. Mary path to statewide dominance.

Whereas LeBron’s teams won three state titles in four years, his only loss coming in his junior-year Ohio championship game, Clark and her teammates fell twice in the state tournament opener, then in the semifinals.

Caitlin Clark: Unofficial ambassador for women's basketball | weareiowa.com

“And then her last high school game ever, they got upset in the game before the state tournament,” Southard. “For me, as soundly as she’s taken over the sport, early on it wasn’t a question of whether the stats were going to come, it was a question of whether the winning was going to come.”

Iowa did reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in her freshman year despite finishing sixth in the Big Ten and carrying a No. 5 seed into the tournament. But then they were upset in her sophomore year as a No. 2 seed playing against No. 10 Creighton.

“They brought everybody back from that team, and so it wasn’t really like a national pressure, it was more of a personal pressure: Hey, this is the last year this starting five is going to be together, and we haven’t really done anything high-level yet,” Southard said.

“We need to do it this year.”

They responded to all of that, and it probably began with a shot to win a game that had lost much of its meaning before tipoff. The Hawkeyes were in position to claim at least a share of the Big Ten title in a home game against No. 2 Indiana on the final day of the regular season – but first they had to visit No. 7 Maryland. It did not go well.

Even after that 28-point loss to the Terps, however, Iowa recovered well enough to engage in a classic against the champion Hoosiers. And when the Hawkeyes trailed by a basket with 1.5 seconds left, there seemed little doubt who would attempt the last shot.

And yet she got open, or open enough, on a curl across the top of the key. And the game-winner she tossed in the basket became one of the most memorable shots in recent women’s basketball.

“They kind of snowballed that to a Big Ten Tournament title, got over the hump to get to the Sweet 16, and just then to reaching the Final Four and beating South Carolina and all that,” Southard said.

“The winning part of it has really accelerated all of this: her fame, the love off the court and just the transcendent element of it all. That’s been all cemented after their run to the Final Four last year.

“The last month of the season, everything was on overdrive in terms of her popularity, her stardom, the team’s stardom.

They just kept adding to it with big wins and big performances to where, even after they lost the title game, it was well on its way to what you see now, which is even more intense.”