A graphic for the "Full Court Press" docuseries. A graphic for the “Full Court Press” docuseries. (ESPN.)

This weekend saw the premiere of the Full Court Press docuseries on Caitlin Clark, Kamilla Cardoso, and Kiki Rice during this past college basketball season. That series comes from Omaha Productions, Words & Pictures, and ESPN; it premiered on ABC, and is now available to stream on ESPN+ and Hulu.

Ahead of the series airing linearly, director Kristen Lappas spoke to AA on how she approached it and what it meant to cover these three stars. To start with, Lappas said it was important to her and the series team to follow a variety of college basketball players rather than just one athlete.

“When we first cast the series, it was really important to us that we had diversity in terms of characters and not just the teams they played for, but what was at stake for each of them, their upbringing. all of those things. I just felt like it was really important to cast it appropriately because it would allow for very different narratives and it wouldn’t feel stale, if that makes sense.

“You know, it’s four hours long, it’s a long series, and especially with college kids I thought it was really important to just really diversify the cast. But it was so surprising and refreshing, honestly, to be with these three women on their various journeys throughout this season.”

Lappas said Cardoso was an interesting pick because of her goals to improve her mother’s life in Brazil. And that gave the series an opportunity to cover some notable visits back there from Cardoso.

“Kamilla Cardoso, the second I met her, she told me about her mom, who worked at a spice stand in Brazil, and how she was really here just to make money in order to help her mom retire and have a better life. I was, like, ‘Oh, we have to go back to Brazil.’ So we went back to Brazil with her twice, once at Christmastime and then for the Olympic qualifiers in February.”

Meanwhile, UCLA sophomore Kiki Rice comes from quite different circumstances. Her aunt Susan is a noted diplomat who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009-13, the National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama from 2013-17, and the director of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council from 2021-23. Her father and brother both played college basketball for Yale, while her mother played tennis there. And she became the first female athlete to sign a NIL deal with Jordan Brand in 2022. Lappas said her background brought in its own contrasts.

“You have like the total opposite end of the spectrum with Kiki Rice, who comes from a really elite political family in DC. But, you know, she is really reserved. And she feels like a little bit of pressure because of the fact that her family has accomplished so much and she has to kind of live up to that standard.”

As for Clark, she certainly needs no introduction at this point. And Lappas said the series understandably has somewhat of a focus on her, given her record-setting season. But she said it’s stronger for being not just about Clark.

“And then, of course, there’s Caitlin, who’s kind of the centerpiece of the whole thing. And, you know, her historic season kind of speaks for itself. But I do think that the other two characters really complimented her role, if that makes sense.”

There’s a wider media discussion underway about coverage of Clark and women’s basketball, which covers both how Clark has boosted the sport’s profile (in both the collegiate and now professional ranks), but how there are many notable figures and storylines beyond her. Lappas said she feels Clark’s success is a good way to get new fans in the door and have them discover those other stories.

“I think what we’re seeing is that people are coming to see the fascination of Caitlin Clark and then they’re being pleasantly surprised by all of the other talent, all of the other stories, and the other characters, which I think is amazing. I mean, like [South Carolina Gamecocks’ head coach] Dawn Staley, after they won the national championship, she got up on the stage, and she thanked Caitlin for growing the sport and carrying the sport.

“And I feel like people who have been involved in the game for a long time, like Dawn Staley, they see how crucial somebody like Caitlin Clark was in order to kind of catapult this thing into the future. But I think now that fans are coming, they’re seeing, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not just Caitlin, there are all these fascinating stories and women and talent.’

“And I think it’s a good thing, and I think people really appreciate and are grateful for Caitlin. And now they’re kind of capitalizing on the opportunities that they’re receiving, because people are coming for her and then they’re getting this showcase.”

Lappas said the growing interest in women’s basketball overall is good to see. But she thinks it’s important to not present the sport as something inherently different from elite men’s sports.

“I’ve been covering women’s basketball for a long time and I grew up in a basketball house, so for me, seeing the intensity in the locker rooms and all of that was not surprising. But I think for viewers, it’s going be surprising. Because I think women’s sports is kind of painted always as female empowerment, like we’re all friends, and we’re all content, and nothing goes wrong ,and there’s zero conflict.

“That’s just kind of my guiding light in all of the storytelling that I do personally. I do a lot of documentary filmmaking on women’s sports, and it’s just pushing to make sure that people understand that it’s as intense. They are cursing in the locker room, their coaches are reaming them out when they do something wrong, there’s conflicting personalities, teammates are not always best friends.”

Lappas said while that isn’t always the softest light to shine, she thinks it’s a better approach, and one that shows how intense and important the competition in women’s sports is.

“I think it’s really important to paint the picture in that authentic way, which I feel like it hasn’t always been that way necessarily. And maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but it hasn’t always been that way, at least for the storytelling that I’ve seen in the past when it comes to female athletes.”

Read on for more from Lappas on coverage of women’s sports versus men’s sports, her past work with Dream On and Giannis: The Marvelous Journey, and what was key to this docuseries.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.