IOWA CITY, Iowa - I’ve always had a great appreciation for team over individual. You know, the old “no “I” in team philosophy.
But this season, that appreciation has taken a detour thanks to Spencer Lee, Luka Garza and Caitlin Clark.
Lee is the greatest wrestler in the nation, 125 pounds of domination. Garza is the leading candidate for player of the year in college basketball, with an unmatched work ethic, great footwork for a 6-11 center and a game that extends far outside the paint. Clark is one of the country’s elite freshman players, and one of the game’s best point guards regardless of class. She plays relentlessly, with no fear of failure. She’s a wizard with the ball in her hands.
If you’re an Iowa fan, stop and count your lucky stars. It’s rare to get one of these gifts delivered to your viewing door. But three at the same time? That’s an embarrassment of riches, something you should appreciate and savor while you have the chance.
All three are must-see TV. And I, for one, can’t get enough. I catch myself taping every wrestling dual, women’s basketball game and men’s basketball game when they’re televised. Then I’ll go back and watch them again, just to appreciate the special talent they possess. Lee’s heroics are man-to-man, one-on-one. Garza and Clark do their things on a much larger canvas, working with for teammates and trying to play as one.
But I watch, and watch again, and appreciate even more what they are accomplishing in the spotlight. Everyone is gunning for them. And they produce, night after night. Lee is a modern-day Dan Gable. When he’s on the mat, everyone stops and watches. Even casual observers. It reminds me of the phenomenon surrounding Tiger Woods on the golf course. Even those who wouldn’t know a 5-iron from a 3-wood tune in to watch him play.
A two-time NCAA champ, Lee’s never lost to a Big Ten opponent in a dual meet. He won both the Hodge Trophy and the James E. Sullivan Award a year ago. An all-American and the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler. Undefeated the past two seasons. The Big Ten’s reigning wrestler of the year.
Garza is the leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball, only the second Hawkeye to score at least 2,000 points and on the brink of replacing Roy Marble at No. 1 (2,116). Luka got to 2,000 in just 113 games, the fastest to get there in 25 years of Big Ten play.He’s an all-American and
the reigning Big Ten player of the year. He’s the only player in conference history to score at least 2,000 points, grab 800 rebounds, block 100 shots and make 100 three-pointers in his career.
Clark is fifth nationally in scoring as a freshman, and is the only player in the nation averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists a game. She has shooting range to 30 feet, with a deadly step-back move to get room to release over defenders. Her handle is so good that it can freeze defenders in their tracks and allow her to pull up and shoot or take the ball to the basket. She makes tough shots look like good ones. It’s only time until she joins Megan Gustafson and
Kathleen Doyle as a Big Ten player of the year. She’ll also have all-American attached to her name.
But numbers, as impressive as they are, only tell part of the story. It’s the way that all three compete that stand out. One big question coaches always have when they are watching potential recruits is this - does their motor run fast enough to be successful against Big Ten competition?
For Lee, Garza and Clark it’s always been full speed ahead. And we are the lucky ones who get to watch three athletes, representing the same university, driven for success in the same season.