The hidden side of politics

‘Nobody can stop them’: The strikingly similar games of Caitlin Clark and ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich

Reported by ESPN:

Two days before Christmas 1969, Bill Walton first saw Pete Maravich in person.

A high school senior from San Diego headed to hoops immortality at UCLA, Walton watched at Pauley Pavilion as the LSU legend went through his pregame warmup drills.

“He was a genius,” Walton told ESPN. “And as is often the case with geniuses, they get bored very quickly. So he was constantly challenging himself. He was a showman, and he loved the show.”

Walton understands why people see similarities between Maravich and Iowa women’s college basketball star Caitlin Clark, who is closing in on passing Maravich for the Division I men’s and women’s scoring mark. Maravich scored 3,667 points from 1967-70; Clark is at 3,617.

“When I watch her play, which is as often as possible, it just puts a giant smile on my face,” Walton said. “The beauty of basketball is that it’s not all about size and strength. It’s about skill, timing and position, and she has all of that stuff and more. She awes people with her imagination and creativity. She makes it fun.”

Maravich was born in 1947 and died at age 40 in 1988, 14 years before Clark was born. In that time, the world of basketball expanded enormously, including the modern-day women’s game. Maravich’s college career came before freshman eligibility, so he played just three seasons — 83 total games — at LSU. Before the 3-point shot and the shot clock, Maravich averaged 38.1 shots and 44.2 points per game. Clark, a senior, has averaged 19.9 shots and 28.3 points in 128 career games.

Walton said statistical comparisons between different eras in sports are problematic because of all the variables. But what players can mean to a sport, and how they make people feel while watching them are more comparable.

“Caitlin is one of those rare forces of nature that when she’s playing, you cannot take your eyes off her because she’s just moving in this graceful and productive manner,” Walton said. “She’s also a result of the evolutionary process from the late ’60s and early ’70s, when women started to be empowered to play competitive sports. A whole lot of foundational players have come before her.”

That included stars such as Walton’s fellow Bruin Ann Meyers, the sister of his UCLA teammate Dave Meyers, and Kansas’ Lynette Woodard, whose AIAW major college record of 3,649 points Clark is also near passing.

Like Maravich, Clark — who has 1,037 assists — is not just a scorer but an offensive artist.

“I’d compare Pete to the great chess players in the history of the world,” Walton said. “Pete could control himself, the ball and the other nine players on the floor.”

In the NBA, Walton played against Maravich. The New Orleans Jazz’s first victory as a franchise came Nov. 10, 1974, as Maravich led the way against Walton, then a rookie, and the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton still remembers every detail of Maravich dribbling through the defense to hit a turnaround, twisting fadeaway jump shot for the winning basket.

“One of the great things about the best of the best players like Pete and Caitlin is that they play the game on the run,” Walton said. “They’re not using a physical advantage to move their opponents out of the way. They’re not that big. But nobody can stop them.

“When you think of great scientists or musicians or stage performers — whatever it was they did, they just captivated everyone else’s attention. That’s what Pete Maravich did quite a few years ago. That’s what Caitlin Clark is doing right now.”

And though more than 50 years have passed, there are similarities in their games. — Michael Voepel

Scoring and shooting: Buckets, a lot of buckets

Maravich played at LSU for his father, Peter “Press” Maravich, during a period from 1967-70 when freshmen were not eligible for varsity. Maravich is known as the scoring king of NCAA basketball with 3,667 points. He took nearly 40 shots and 14 free throws per game during his career and had the highest scoring average (44.5 points per game) ever in a single season as a senior and the highest career scoring average (44.2) in NCAA history. Maravich also owns the record for most 50-point games (28) and 40-point games (58).

Those numbers are amazing considering Maravich had only three years to accomplish his records. There was also no shot clock, meaning teams held the ball and accrued fewer possessions in a game.

Maravich had a gift of making tough shots look easy. He could finish at the basket with a double-pump layup or hit a running hook shot, which was unique to his game. His pull-up jumper was lethal in transition as well as the half court. His long-range jumper — a 3-pointer in today’s game — had exacting range. Maravich was always on the attack, yet totally under control.

It’s hard to know where to start with Clark because she impacts the game in so many ways. Her ability to shoot (and make with ease) from deep jumps off the page. Clark creates 51 points per game, the highest usage rate in college basketball, and is in the 98th percentile in efficiency. Roughly 59 percent of Clark’s shots come from behind the arc. She makes 42% of her pull-up 3-pointers and 38% of her catch-and-shoot 3s with an average distance of 25 feet, nine inches, according to Synergy Sports in 128 games played.

Clark has a real chance to lead the country in scoring for the third time in four years. The scouting report doesn’t even matter most games — Clark will find a way to get to her numbers. Opposing defenses can only hope to make it more difficult — even a box-in-one fails to slow Clark.

LSU associate head coach Bob Starkey faced Clark last year in the NCAA championship and detailed the difficulties in game-planning for the Iowa star.

“Caitlin has great lift on her shot with a very quick release and unlimited range and accuracy,” he said. “There is no wasted movement in her shot or game. She has a beautiful shot — unless you’re the one who must prepare for it.”

Clark’s step-back jumper is her calling card. She shoots the ball with great range and precision off the catch and with a quick-rhythm dribble.

Some say she’s the Stephen Curry of women’s basketball.

“Her compact shooting is up and out with a quick release. She has incredible distance,” said Curry’s trainer, Brandon Payne. “One reason is, she has tight, repeatable mechanics and shoots through her core and wrist. She lives in her work. It shows in her comfort and confidence level shooting the ball.” — Paul Biancardi

Passing: Making magic with the ball

Clark is the first player to eclipse 3,000 points and 1,000 assists. She leads the country with 7.9 assists per game — with 14 games with double-digit assists this season — and led all players with 8.6 per game a year ago. Clark has the unique opportunity to lead the country in passing for three consecutive years.

She’s perhaps the best passer in college basketball because she creates gravity on the floor. That means no one demands more attention than Clark, who sometimes has all five opposing defenders solely concentrating on stopping her. This allows her to navigate and exploit her opponents.

Her thought process, passing vision and accuracy under pressure are so advanced. She has had some high-turnover games but that comes with being the focal point of opponents’ scouting reports.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey, a former point guard who has won NCAA titles as a player and head coach, said Clark is “going to get her points.”

“But the most impressive thing to me — now that you’re talking to an old point guard — is she makes everybody around her better. You have great players that can get numbers, but she makes others on her team better,” Mulkey said at the 2023 women’s Final Four. “Just the things she’s capable of doing — one minute you think you’re going to guard her a certain way, then you watch the film and change your mind and go, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work.'”

She might not necessarily have Maravich’s flashiness, but it’s a fascinating comparison.

“She’s an outstanding passer who is two steps ahead of everyone,” said former Division I head coach Marlene Stollings, who is also the all-time leader in high school scoring in Ohio with 3,514 points. “She puts the ball where her teammates should be, which is rare. She should be a WNBA All-Star. She’s not as fancy as Pistol Pete, but she can thread the needle and connect.”

Maravich was known as “Houdini” around campus as a freshman at LSU. He made magic-like passes with flare. His uncommon vision and uncanny passing style made it almost impossible for defenders to anticipate where the ball was headed. Maravich is No. 4 in LSU history with 5.1 assists per game.

It was vital for Maravich’s teammates to stay alert with their heads up and hands ready at all times. He’d find them outrunning opponents, cutting to the basket or coming open from screens, even if it required an unorthodox delivery. Maravich made the no-look assist look easy. He was a master at drawing defenders with his eyes and snapping a pass in the opposite direction. Maravich was a crowd favorite whether at home or on the road, much like Clark. — Biancardi

Ballhandling: The art of manipulation

Maravich was a uniquely gifted ball handler. He dedicated his life to endless stationary and movement drills to become one of the greatest ball handlers ever. The basketball became an extension of his hand because of his remarkable hand-eye coordination and extremely quick hands. His impact extended far beyond his playing days.

“Pistol Pete inspired me at a young age to think outside the box and be creative in my training,” Payne said.

Maravich dribbled circles around defenders with outstanding dexterity and could go behind his back while displaying a smooth change of gear. He was exciting to play with and difficult to defend one-on-one. He could get to any spot on the floor at a moment’s notice because of his creativity and drill work. Maravich was a true wizard with the ball.

“I’d compare Pete to the great chess players in the history of the world. Pete could control himself, the ball and the other nine players on the floor.”

Bill Walton

Similarly, Clark spent countless hours with a basketball in her hands growing up. She did every drill imaginable. Videos from her childhood show her unmatched confidence with the ball in her hands. Clark reads the floor exceptionally well and knows where to go with the dribble. She has complete control. There’s a purpose to every probing dribble whether she’s moving in a straight line or changing direction in tight places. Clark manipulates defenses with her ballhandling.

Clark will encounter bigger and better defenders when she heads to the WNBA, but she’ll also have more space on the court playing with other professionals. Clark is a creative ball handler. She might not be as flamboyant as Maravich, but she’s just as effective. — Biancardi