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Former Valley Christian athletic director reflects on coaching career

After moving to Iowa, Scott Babinat served as high school assistant coach for Caitlin Clark
The Dowling Catholic girls' basketball team is shown. Caitlin Clark, No. 11, stands next to Scott Babinat (right).

For 18 years, Scott Babinat was all in at Valley Christian High School in Dublin.

He worked tirelessly to build a solid athletic program, both as a girls' basketball coach, and then as the athletic director. And he was a success, as the programs at the schools regularly were section contenders in D-IV or D-V divisions.

But in 2014, the school made a change to de-emphasize athletics, cutting the budget and combining positions. Babinat knew it was time for a change.

By 2016 Babinat and his family left California for Iowa, the state where he was from, and spent his childhood.

They ended up in Norwalk, just a short distance from Des Moines. He still wanted to coach and when he got back to Iowa, he started networking.

There was one problem -- his California credentials didn't transfer directly. He did find one school -- Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines -- that had just lost legendary coaches Bob and Sharon Hansen.

The school had hired Kristin Meyer to take over, but there was a need for an assistant. The school explained if he could get some paperwork in order, the assistant coaching job was his. He did and he found himself ready to be part of the Maroons staff. It was a legendary program that has won five Iowa States titles since 1992, as well as four runner-up finishes in the same time frame.

As the year started and basketball practice got underway, there was a new freshman at the school that was creating some buzz even before she stepped onto the court.

That freshman was Caitlin Clark. Yes, that Caitlin Clark, who recently turned the basketball world on fire as she led the University of Iowa to the NCAA finals before falling to LSU.

Clark was named the Player of the Year in more than one publication this year and took women's basketball to some of the highest television ratings ever. And Babinat was an assistant for her entire high school career.

"Those were some of my best years being an assistant coach when Caitlin was there," said Babinat.

The hype was immediate, even if Meyer and her staff were not quite sure what exactly they had in Clark. Apparently, they might have been the only group in the Iowa basketball community who wasn't fully aware of Clark.

"We started getting calls right away when (Clark) got there," said Babinat. "Coach Meyer asked a top five college coach, 'How good is she?' The coach replied, 'She could start for us right now.'"

Then they got the girls practicing, and it became clear just how good Clark can play the game of basketball.

"When (Clark) got on the court, you couldn't believe it," said Babinat. "It was awesome -- she saw the game so fast. Within two weeks I called Jeff Gadd (a friend and Valley Christian basketball coach) and said you have got to watch this girl."

With a game at the level of a D-I college player in many aspects, the fact was she was still a freshman in high school and there were adjustments to make.

"She had a lot still to learn," said Babinat. "She had to learn maybe she needed to hit her teammates in the head with a pass, so they would learn, to always be ready. It was just that ability to see the game so fast -- her teammates needed to get to that level."

And don't think for one second Clark was intimidated for a freshman to step on the court with seniors that could be 3-4 years older.

"She plays the game with her emotion on her sleeve," said Babinat of Clark. "She is so intense -- she was the greatest competitor."

Meyer had Babinat work with Clark throughout her four years channeling her emotions. It was very Michael Jordan when she was on the court in practice or games.

She gave her best and expected the same from her teammates.

"She is the Alpha her court, her ball," said Babinat.

But when she was not between the lines, she was a playful and entertaining teammate.

"Before practice and in film she was the biggest goofball and crazy funny," said Babinat. "But between the lines everything and everyone was fair game -- she got after it."

As her high school career went on, the recruiting process intensified. This is something that can take a toll on high school aged athletes, often times overwhelming their ability of the court or playing field.

That is unless they have the right team around them, and that's what Clark found in her parents, Brent and Anne. Between the parents and Meyers, Clark was not phased.

"(Clark) knew she was being recruited, but her parents did such a great job at everything," said Babinat. "They are such a great family. They have shielded her from what she needed to be shielded from. Her parents were able to let her be a high school kid."

By her senior year, the three college finalists were Notre Dame, Iowa State, and Iowa.

"I thought she was going to Notre Dame," said Babinat.

On decision day she announced her intent to stay home and chose Iowa. That started the party at Iowa.

"You can't quantify how big it is she stayed in Iowa," said Babinat. "It's been huge."

Clark had a stated goal of bringing a national title to Iowa. She came as close as possible this year, losing to LSU in the finals. There was some controversy following the game about taunting from LSU star Angela Reese, using the John Cena, 'You can't see me' hand gesture.

It was something Clark had done in the semifinals.

Clark went on record saying Reese should not be criticized and that trash talk makes the game fun. It was the perfect way to react.

"Caitlin has the personality to handle everything she faces," said Babinat, who said he was not surprised when he heard Clark's reaction.

Clark also entered college at the right time as the NIL era began.

NIL stands for name, image, and likeness. The definition ofNILis simple: It is the possibility of compensation paid to NCAA student-athletes to promote, partner, or represent brands.

In other words, it allows the college athletes to earn money, as they help the school make money. Under the management/assistance of her mother, Clark has enough coming in that her off the court business has been as successful as her on court accolades.

Among some of NIL deals are Nike, Hy-Vee, Topps, Buick, Bose, and Goldman Sachs. And there is some impressive company she has joined representing the companies.

Hy-Vee is a midwestern supermarket chain that has counted Patrick Mahomes, Mark Wahlberg, and even Oprah amongst its family.

Its the first time Topps has made an Iowa athlete card. The big one may very well turn out to be Nike. There is a feeling in the field that Clark may be the first athlete still in college to have their own shoe made.

It is estimated by Front Office Sports that Clarks net worth is between $1-5 million.

It's already known that Clark will return for her senior year, and there is a chance she could stay in Iowa for an additional year that was granted to athletes following COVID.

Clark has mentioned why would she want to leave a place she loves so much.

There are many that say Clark could take a cut in pay when she goes to the WNBA. Then again, it would seem like her endorsements would get even better once she turns professional.

"Caitlin has a big decision to make in another year," said Babinat.

There appears nothing but big things in Clark's future. And Babinat, who no longer coaches as he is an operations associate for a financial company in Iowa, was there to see her college ride.

"She was the greatest competitor," said Babinat of Clark's high school career. "When she graduated she wrote to me, 'I appreciate that you understand how competitive I am.' Her era in Iowa has been such an amazing one."

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