IOWA CITY — The Iowa Wolves were playing the Austin Spurs in a G League game on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The crowd was 500, tops, and the well-scattered customers made their favorite player clear at every opportunity.
That was Joe Weiskamp, not a standout for the home team, but rather a 6-6 rookie pro with the visitors from Texas.
There is nothing to solidify the popularity of an Iowa-raised athlete more than turning down out-of-state options and staying home to become a valuable contributor to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
And that's what Weiskamp did after a run at Muscatine High School in which he averaged 30-plus in his final two seasons.
There is a sizable share of the state's 3.25 million residents with hearts that belong to the Iowa State Cyclones, and everybody will root for underdogs Northern Iowa or Drake if they turn up in the NCAA basketball tournament, but the Hawkeyes are kings.
Weiskamp played three seasons and 97 games for Iowa before forgoing his senior season to enter the NBA draft. Leaving early did not cost him much popularity; not on Tuesday, when he was still "Weezy'' from Muscatine.
The Iowa men's team has plenty of home-staters to receive extra credit for staying home, including sophomore Keegan Murray with his 22.4 points per game, but the true exclamations of joy this week in Hawkeyeland have been reserved for Caitlin Clark, another sophomore star from the women's team.
The most-heard question over the past 48 hours in the 120-mile stretch between West Des Moines and Iowa City has been rhetorical: "Did you see those shots Caitlin was making Sunday against Michigan?''
When on the receiving end, my answer said: "Yes. I thought I was watching Steph Curry, from those distances.''
Iowa was missing four players — starters and contributors — and down to seven players when Clark took it upon herself to try to win a shootout with Michigan. Very late, she made three that were 30 feet-plus, and then winced mightily when missing a 38-footer that allowed Michigan to officially put it away (98-90, final).
Clark wound up with 46. This went with 43 against Ohio State six days earlier. Suddenly, the 6-foot guard has emerged among the leading candidates to join Iowa's Megan Gustafson (2019) as a National Player of the Year.
Among those surprised by Clark's long-distance display was this extremely confident and feisty player.
"I didn't realize I was that deep until I saw it on TV,'' Clark said in a Zoom interview on Tuesday. "The only reason I was shooting that deep was we were down and we needed to take shots.''
Iowa's veteran and highly successful coach, Lisa Bluder, offered this review of her star's effort to start this week:
"That range, 35 feet, that was crazy. That was one of those moments, honestly I don't know if you'll ever see it again. I was glad to witness it.
"We're in awe, but we're also kind of used to it. That's really kind of sad, isn't it?''
Clark came out Wednesday as if Bluder might witness it again, this time in a win at home. Caitlin made a pair of beyond 30-footers in the first quarter, had 12 points and the Hawkeyes led 27-21.
And then a strange thing happened. The Gophers, 56-point losers to Iowa in Williams Arena on Jan. 20, held Clark to one point in the second quarter, pounded the boards and turned it into a fierce fight.
Sara Scalia, the Gophers' No. 1 threat, turned it loose with back-to-back threes and drives that countered Clark drives, and it was Hawkeyes 62, Gophers 61, entering the fourth quarter.
This had a chance to be the best and most-astounding win of Lindsay Whalen's four seasons as great player-turned-novice coach. The stunned Iowa crowd was forced to go to a strategy dating at least to Lute Olson's teams:
Hollering outrage at the officials.
Meantime, Clark seemed more upset with herself. Her standards are enormous; she was so upset you expected her to stomp on her own foot when missing three free throws on the front of two-shot opportunities.
It was not Caitlin at her best, but she came out storming and bursting to the basket to open the fourth quarter. The Gophers' Deja Winters went bonkers in the fourth quarter, finishing with 30 points, but the final was Iowa, 88-78, with 32 from Clark.
One superlative fits her best: relentless.
This is an athlete from Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines that turned down the best efforts of then-coach Muffet McGraw to bring her to Notre Dame's outstanding program.
Caitlin Clark stayed home, which counts here in Iowa perhaps more than any place you're likely to attend a big-time college event.