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NANCY ARMOUR
Caitlin Clark

Bypassing Caitlin Clark for Olympics was right for Team USA. And for Clark, too.

Leaving Caitlin Clark home from the Paris Olympics was the right decision for the 91影视 team.

Right decision for Clark, too.

While Clark would no doubt have drawn more eyeballs to the women鈥檚 basketball tournament, the Olympics are not meant to be a participation trophy. It should be the best players who go and 鈥 hard as it might be for her fans to hear this 鈥 Clark is not one of the 12 best 91影视 players right now.

She is too turnover prone, her total (67) and average (5.6 per game) are well above those of anyone else in the WNBA. Those miscues would likely multiply at the Olympics because she鈥檇 be firing passes at players with whom she's not had a chance to develop timing or chemistry.

Clark has never even practiced with the senior national team; she was invited to the final training camp before roster selection, but had to miss it because it was, as it has been the last few years, during the Final Four. Clark, you might recall, was a little busy that weekend, taking Iowa to the title game for a second year in a row.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) at Barclays Center.

Clark's defense also remains a work in progress, which could make her a liability. And as much as she struggles with the physicality of the WNBA, the international game is even rougher.

Yes, the 91影视 women have been dominant, winning the last seven Olympic titles without dropping a game. But that also puts a massive target on their backs and opponents were only emboldened in February, when the Americans needed a buzzer beater from Breanna Stewart to squeak by Belgium.

The same Belgium team happens to be in the 91影视 women鈥檚 group in Paris, along with Tokyo silver medalist Japan.

So no, Team USA couldn鈥檛 spare a roster spot for Clark to help gin up attention and publicity. There鈥檚 simply too much at stake and the talent pool in front of her too deep.

鈥淚 know it鈥檚 the most competitive team in the world,鈥 . 鈥溾 Honestly, no disappointment.鈥

But this is as much about Clark as it is Team USA. She does not need to go to Paris, where she鈥檇 be at the end of the bench and the center of the circus. She needs rest.

Desperately.

Because Iowa made the title game in Clark鈥檚 last two seasons, and did a European trip in between, she鈥檚 had all of about two months off in the last 15 months. And her introduction to the WNBA has been frenetic, with Indiana playing 11 games in 20 days and Clark leading the league in minutes played.

Clark鈥檚 isn鈥檛 your normal game mileage, either. Besides being the focal point of every defense, both at Iowa and now with the , she has been at the center of a white-hot national spotlight that keeps getting bigger.

LeBron James and Lionel Messi might be the only other athletes who can understand the burden Clark carries. It鈥檚 not enough for her to play well, she has to elevate women鈥檚 basketball and be the champion for all of women鈥檚 sports, too. She鈥檚 been thrust, unasked, into national discourses about race and privilege, and opinions about her have become something of a Rorschach test for a polarized country.

鈥淭he hardest part about being Caitlin Clark? I鈥檇 say is having to feel like you鈥檙e always on,鈥 Clark said in ESPN鈥檚 鈥淔ull Court Press鈥 docuseries, which followed her, Kamilla Cardoso and UCLA鈥檚 Kiki Rice last season.

Clark has handled all of this with exceptional grace. But no one needs the three-week break for the Olympics more than she does. To sleep and rest her body. To hit the weight room so she can withstand the banging and battering that's a staple of the W. To actually practice with her teammates.

Part of the reason Clark has had so many turnovers already is because the Fever is a young team that鈥檚 still trying to develop chemistry. But that鈥檚 hard to do with a schedule that has left very little room for practice.

鈥淚t鈥檚 going to be really nice,鈥 Clark said when asked if the break will benefit her. 鈥淚鈥檝e loved competing every single second, but it鈥檚 going to be a great month for my body to, first of all, get rest and get healthy and just get a little time away from basketball and the craziness of everything that鈥檚 been going on. Just find some peace and quiet for myself.

鈥淏ut then additionally, a great opportunity for us to work to get better. A great opportunity for myself to get in the weight room, to work on the court and work at things that I want to get better at, that I maybe didn鈥檛 have time, going from college to the pro season,鈥 she added. 鈥淪o I鈥檓 looking forward to it.鈥

That doesn鈥檛 mean Clark won鈥檛 use missing out on Paris as motivation. Now and in the years to come. When she learned she didn鈥檛 make the team, Fever coach Christie Sides said Clark told her, 鈥淐oach, they woke a monster.鈥

Good. Because there will be a time, very soon, when the 91影视 women need Clark. Right now, however, the best way Clark can help Team USA, and herself, is by getting some rest.

Follow 91影视 Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.

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