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Aces rookie no stranger to competing with, against Caitlin Clark

Updated May 28, 2024 - 8:52 am

A new addition to the Aces crashed Alysha Clark’s news conference with an important question: “Who’s your favorite rookie?”

”Because she’s in the room, I’m going to say Kate Martin’s my favorite,” Clark said through laughter after a practice.

Martin made her WNBA debut the next day, showcasing her perfect fit with the team with three points, five rebounds and three assists in Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Sparks. She and Clark, a 13-year WNBA veteran, are often compared to one another by coach Becky Hammon.

Even though they play different positions, the second-round draft picks are lauded for the “intangibles” they bring to the court.

Clark has taken Martin under her wing, and the two have formed a relationship that reminds the rookie of what she once had with Indiana Fever superstar Caitlin Clark at the start of their time together at Iowa. The all-time NCAA leading scorer and Martin went on to become best friends, and they’re set to play against each other for the first time as pros Saturday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

The matchup will be on a new stage, but the energy will be the same, as a love for competition is what brought the former teammates together in the first place.

Becoming best friends

Martin, 23, redshirted her freshman year as a Hawkeye in 2019 because of a knee injury. Clark didn’t arrive at Iowa until two years later.

“Our competitive spirit really connected us because we saw things similarly, and we just wanted to win, win, win — no matter what,” Martin said Thursday.

Alysha Clark has been a resource for Martin during her time with the Aces, similar to what Martin was for Caitlin Clark at the start of her collegiate career.

“It kind of was like (my relationship with Alysha Clark),” Martin said. “Because it was a mutual respect for one another. When you are wired differently — like some of the greats — respect is earned, in a way. They need to see you in the gym working really hard. And Caitlin saw that in me.

“So we had a mutual respect for each other where I could hold her accountable and she could hold me accountable. We knew it was in each other’s best interest at the end of the day, and so it was a special relationship in that sense.”

Martin and Clark’s friendship led to them choosing to be roommates for Iowa’s road games during their senior years. Maybe it was out of comfort, habit or superstition, but it’s a privilege they had because they were at “the top of the food chain,” Martin joked.

But Martin and Clark’s relationship has never stopped them from going at each other’s necks on the court. Martin recalls scrimmages hosted by players in the summer being especially heated. Getting mad while talking trash and scoring on one another back-and-forth was the norm.

“I always tried to get under her skin. It was always the same vice versa,” Martin said. “So it’s just kind of all in good fun.”

An unlikely story

During Martin’s redshirt freshman year, she sat and watched as senior All-American center Megan Gustafson led Iowa to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 seasons.

“It was life-changing,” Martin said. “(The redshirt year) helped me realize I wanted to coach one day and I wanted to be around the game forever. I got to see the game from a different perspective.”

The Aces drafted Martin with the No. 18 pick of the 2024 draft and signed Gustafson as a free agent in February. She and Martin have “great chemistry” on the court together, Gustafson said Thursday.

That said, Martin’s road to the WNBA wasn’t all sunshine and daisies.

After struggling through rehab to be ready for the 2019-20 season, Martin went through a year she could only describe as “hard.” She was given limited playing time, appearing in just 24 games. Then came Clark, who entered Iowa in 2021 as the No. 4-ranked player overall in the class of 2020.

By the end of last season, Clark was consensus No. 1 overall pick and the face of college basketball after leading the Hawkeyes to a second straight runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament.

While Martin had just averaged career highs in points (13.1), rebounds (6.8) and shooting percentage (50.7 percent), it was unclear if she would be selected. However, when she attended the WNBA draft as a member of the audience instead of one of the 15 prospects invited, it wasn’t solely to support Clark, she said.

“I think what people don’t understand is, I knew there was a possibility that my name could be called. Did I know I was going to walk up on stage? No,” Martin said with a laugh. “I was there to support Caitlin. That’s correct. But also, I had seen my name on mock drafts. I had a good feeling that I was gonna get picked. I’m glad I had that once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Martin then had to make the roster of the back-to-back champions, which is hard to do with a maximum of 12 roster spots. During the rounds of cuts, Caitlin Clark said she was talking to her former teammate every single day.

“She brings every asset that you could possibly want, whether it’s shooting, defense, whether it’s leadership. In my eyes she’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around in my entire life,” Clark told reporters on May 2. “She’s somebody I can always lean on and rely on, whether she’s my teammate, whether she’s just my friend.”

Clark later said she wished Martin was still her teammate. But even though they’ll be on different squads Saturday, it’ll probably feel like old times.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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