ALBANY — The lobby was packed before the Sweet 16 games began, packed with wide-eyed young girls eager to watch women’s college basketball — even if Caitlin Clark was not playing until Saturday afternoon.

The Oregon State band played as these young girls with their mother or father or grandmother or grandfather waited to be let inside MVP Arena to watch and dream a dream of their own, the same dream that Caitlin Clark dreamed once as a young girl growing up in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Caitlinsanity comes to Albany:

“I like her and she’s inspiring to kids like me that like to play basketball,” said Kasey, an 8-year-old from Cooperstown.

So one day you might grow up to be Caitlin Clark?

“I want to,” Kasey said. “I’m gonna try to.”

Rachel, from Latham, N.Y., is 15. She plays point guard for Shaker High School.

“When you’re watching her,” Rachel said, “she gets people excited, especially like when she takes shots from like half court.”

Is she an inspiration to you?

“Yes she is.”

Why?

“She just inspires people around the world to like be better.”

What is it about her game you like the best?

“I think it’s like her court awareness, and I don’t think people talk about that a lot … like not even looking at the player and she already knows where they are on the court. She could just like flip behind-the-back pass or whatever, and it gets to them.”

Rachel is one of the lucky ones. She’ll be at MVP Arena watching Caitlin Clark and Iowa on Saturday against Colorado. Her grandmother Kathy got two tickets online.

“They were $230 apiece,” Kathy said.

Grandma played basketball once, too.

“I love Caitlin Clark,” she said. “She’s got an all-around game. Everybody kind of picked on her because they said all she did was score, but if you look at her assists, her rebounds, just her vision on the court is phenomenal.”

Is Caitlin inspirational to you?

“My playing days are looong over,” she said, and smiled, “but what’s inspirational is what she’s done for women’s basketball. Just seeing this turnout — I came a few years back when they had the tournament here, there was nothing like this. Nothing. You weren’t waiting to get inside.”

Julia is a 10-year-old point guard in U-11 in Hamilton, Canada.

“I love her,” she said.

Why?

“Because she’s a really good shooter and I want to be just like her.”

Julia loves Clark’s competitive fire: “I really like how she gets angry when she keeps making mistakes because that means she wants to get better.”

Kate Rueck’s father, Scott, is the women’s coach at Oregon State, a 70-65 winner over Notre Dame on Friday. His wife, Kerry, applauds Clark for pushing women’s basketball into the public’s consciousness. Both of their daughters, 17-year-old Kate and 12-year-old Macey, are point guards.

“I think she’s an inspiration to me,” Macey said, “because I want to be like her and I want to like make shots, obviously. And I think it’s really impressive what she can do.”

Asked why Clark is an inspiration to her, 10-year-old shooting guard Lindley from nearby Clifton Park said: “Because I want to shoot like her.”

Her friend Emma, 10, also a shooting guard, added: “She’s amazing. She’s really good at shooting, and she’s really good at shooting like wide range.”

Ella, 17, is a guard from Troy, Pa. She was wearing an Iowa sweatshirt.

“Oh, she’s easily the best college basketball [player] ever,” she said.

What is it about her that you like?

“Her style of play. … Like her shooting. It’s just crazy.”

Her friend Brenna, 12, agrees. But it’s more than the shooting that Ella really likes.

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“Just how she’s like humble when she needs to be and then like she’s like cocky when she can be and confident.”

Bryan Vannoy coaches the high school women’s team in Canton, Pa.

“I think she’s absolutely phenomenal, and I would say what separates her is she plays the game with a Kobe Bryant-like mentality,” he said. “She puts everything on the floor and refuses to lose, and if she’s going to lose, you’re going to get everything she possibly has. And I also think that she holds her teammates accountable, kind of in a Kobe Bryant aspect where she demands your best. And I think the other players on her team give her her best … she just gets it out of ya. Like you kinda don’t really have a choice.”

Juliana is a guard.

“I like her form in shooting,” she said. “I like how she does her crossover.”

What do you think Caitlin Clark has done for young girls like yourself?

“Probably inspired others to like work harder and be more dedicated to the sport.”

Vakala, a 10-year-old: “I want to grow up to be a good shooter and a good player like her.”

Her sister Kalana is 14: “Her determination and watching her play just like really inspires me to try to do good for basketball.”

Moira is a 9-year-old point guard and Caitlin Clark fan: “She’s a good basketball player.”

How is she good? “She shoots 3s.” How does she inspire you? “Hard work.”

Greyson is also 9. She plays center. “She shoots 3s, and she’s good.” How does Caitlin inspire you? “To work hard, and try my best.”

Emily is 9. “She’s an amazing player.” What’s amazing about her? “Her shot, and her passes that she makes.” Why is she an inspiration to you? “She inspires me to want to be like her when I grow up.”

A reporter mentioned to Caitlin Clark that he had gone to a local practice with an AAU team and middle school girls were wearing her No. 22.

“I think that’s the best part about what I get to do,” she said. “I grew up having those role models and aspiring to be where I am today. It’s super special to see your impact not only in the state of Iowa but across the country.

“And I think that’s been the biggest thing for us this year is it hasn’t only been in Iowa. Obviously Iowa has supported us through and through, but no matter where we go there’s so many people supporting us and wanting us to succeed.

“To be able to have that impact on the next generation is really special, and you just hope to dream and aspire to be like you one day and chase after all their dreams.”

Greatlin Clark.

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