Delle Donne and Evans Share CAA Preseason Honors
ARLINGTON, Va. - On a day that began with traffic choked in the vicinity of the nearby Pentagon because of a mysterious shooter (no one was injured), there was nothing requiring guesswork involving women's preseason player of the year honors in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Delaware sophomore center Elena Delle Donne and James Madison senior guard Dawn Evans were the CAA's top guns and among the nation's scoring leaders last season and as such shared honors Tuesday in a vote from the conference coaches who ballotted for the first time without involvement from media members who cover the CAA.
The coaches made the decision over the summer to go it alone in preseason and postseason selections.
Delle Donne, the 2008 national high school player of the year out of Wilmington, Del., made a spectacular debut averaging 26.7 points in leading the Blue Hens back to respectability while also being at or near the best in the CAA in several other statistical categories.
That earned her a rarity in the CAA -- player and rookie of the year honors.
The graduate of Ursuline Academy showed no sign of rust after having taken a year off away from basketball following a decision to return a scholarship to powerful University of Connecticut that shrugged off the loss of Delle Donne by going unbeaten on the way to two NCAA titles with a 78-game winning streak.
However, at UConn this season, Delle Donne's absence might be more noticed, especially if the Huskies get derailed prior to an attempted march on the 88-game win streak record by the UCLA men's team under the late and legendary coach John Wooden.
Tina Charles and Kalena Greene graduated to be among the best newcomers in the WNBA -- Charles earning a 39-0 vote from the media for rookie of the year. Furthermore Delle Donne's good friend Caroline Doty of Germantown Academy suffered another torn ACL over the summer which will cause her to miss a second season since joining the Huskies in 2008.
"Delle Donne is a level of talent we're proud to have in the CAA," said Hall of Famer and former WNBA superstar Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who is the new coach of UNC Wilmington. "We're going to try to double and triple team her, we might try to put something in her coffee. I don't know how we're going to stop her. I don't think anyone has stopped her."
Evans, who averaged 24.6 points, was last season's feel-good story in battling kidney disease while propelling James Madison to the CAA title prior to losing to Temple in the first round of the NCAA tournament in nearby Norfolk, Va.
Even had the Dukes defeated the Owls, the ride would have ended quickly in the next round considering UConn was on the other side of the bracket at Old Dominion University.
Evans' presence along with three other starters were enough to make JMU the conference favorite ahead of Old Dominion, Delaware and Hofstra.
Drexel, which graduated CAA all-time scorer Gabriella Marginean, the 2009 CAA player of the year, was picked sixth, the same spot forecasted for Bruiser Flint's men's team with the Dragons.
"It's flattering that your peers think you're the preseason favorite but after that, that's all that it's worth," JMU coach and prolific tweeter Kenny Brooks said. "We're going to go in understanding it's going to be very difficult to defend this title -- there are a lot of good teams and a lot that have gotten better. That's what makes this league so good."
Seven CAA teams went to the postseason, in part as elsewhere helped by the expansion of the WNIT.
As for Evans' health at the moment, Brooks said, "She's doing wonderfully. In laymen's terms, her numbers are better now than they were at the end of last year. The disease, it can take its course, it can do whatever, but right now we're monitoring the situation. She looks good. She's practicing well. We haven't had to hold her out of a practice yet and she's playing the best basketball I've seen her play."
Rounding out the CAA preseason selections, Delle Donne and Evans were joined on the first team by Hofstra sophomore forward Shante Evans, a resident of West Chester (Pa.) and graduate of Henderson High in suburban Philadelphia; UNCW senior guard-forward Brittany Blackwell and William and Mary junior guard Taysha Paye.
Old Dominion, which won every CAA title since joining the conference before Drexel felled the Lady Monarchs in 2009, had three players on the second team: senior guards Jasmine Parker and Shadasia Green along with junior post player Tia Lewis. They were joined by JMU sophomore guard Tarik Hislop and Va. Commonwealth junior forward Courtney Hurt.
Drexel junior forward Kamile Nacickaite was named an honorable mention.
"We're still going to be running the same offense," Drexel coach Denise Dillon said about life in the Daskalakis Athletic Center without Marginean. "We're just going to have different players taking shots. Gabby thrived in our system and was consistent. We will be working to strengthen the post because on any given night someone could step up and stop our three-point shooters."
Delaware, which still will be on the youthful side in the Blue Hens' lineup, doesn't need to gain many points to move up again after narrowly losing six CAA regular season games to the conference leaders in the closing minutes and a 50-49 setback to ODU in the conference semifinals on the way to an overall 21-12 record and a berth in the WNIT.
"Those games were great for the fans and tough for the coaches," said Delaware coach Tina Martin.
Delle Donne could get some help if former St. Joseph's freshman Sarah Acker, a transfer who was the top Big Five rookie several seasons ago, gaines eligibility prior to the Blue Hens' visit to Penn State.
"She's trying to get things done and if she can, she'll be an added help," Martin said.
Delaware has beefed up the schedule, which a year ago had been lightened somewhat prior to the knowledge that Delle Donne would leave the volleyball team after a year on Bonnie Kenny's conference power.
Besides visiting Penn State, the Blue Hens will host Villanova, which was one of Delle Donne's original final four choices prior to her nod to UConn; St. Joseph's and Ivy League champion Princeton while meeting Vanderbilt in Virginia Tech's tournament.
There is also a visit to Yale, marking Delle Donne's appearance in the state of Connecticut. Besides St. Joseph's and Villanova, the Blue Hens will take a road trip to play a third Big Five team at La Salle while also meeting CAA rival Drexel in a home-and-home encounter.
"It just makes sense to play the Philly teams -- they're good competition and of course it certainly makes traveling much easier being able to stay in the area," Martin said.
"And the conference is so good with seven teams going to the postseason, we felt we had to step up our schedule. We're going to have our hands full but I think it will be good for the kids.
"I think our freshmen last year learned from all those close losses -- some were real heartbreakers -- and it probably helped their confidence knowing they are able to challenge all those powers. They'll be better for it."
As for Delle Donne in year two following her saga the last several seasons in the natonal spotlight, Martin said, "I think she didn't realize how much of a pounding she was going to take throughout the year.
"Everybody double- and triple-teamed her. A lot of people were real physical with her. Actually, Elena doesn't mind that but her body is more equipped to handle that this year than it was last year.
"She's in better condition. She's gotten into the weight room. She's a lot stronger and I think she'll continue to work on that these next three years. I think she's more prepared going in this season than last year as far as her body goes."
As for the overall scene at Champps Restaurant in Pentagon City, the lay of the room was much better organized than the space in the ESPN Zone where previous media days were held in recent years across the Potomac in the nation's capital.
The CAA was a world of Star Tech, with live streaming, online chats, and TV appearances involving the men's and women's coaches in attendance.
There were some familiar faces in new places with new Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig replacing longtime AD Jim Jarrett, who retired.
"It seems a bit strange being here today knowing the committee is meeting," the former Bowling Green AD said.
His reference was to the NCAA basketball committee, of which he was a member in recent seasons.
One item on the agenda was the discussion of expanding the women's tournament to perhaps as much as 96 from the present field of 64.
Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry favors an increase in the field.
"You just get that much more interest in women's basketball from schools that have a new stake in the tournament," she said. "One thing is that in several conferences it might be good to take both teams when one wins the regular season title but doesn't go because it lost in the conference tournament.
"But you certainly don't want to glut the field with more teams from weaker conferences," she added.
"This conference is worth three or four teams and that might give us more respect because the way we play, especially against each other in the CAA, I certainly don't think the term `mid-major' is the right way to described our competition."
The Lady Monarchs, who have maintained a tough non-league schedule in good times and bad, will be seeing the likes of Tennessee, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida along with nearby Richmond.
However, it appears that the traditional state rivalry with Virginia has gone by the boards for now at least.
William & Mary