Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Health Issue Stops Delaware's Delle Donne In Win At La Salle

By Mel Greenberg

Is Delaware sophomore sensation Elena Delle Donne on the road to becoming the Stephen Strasburg of women’s basketball with injuries and health conditions impacting her career of great potential as a collegian?

In major league baseball last summer, Strasburg made a dynamic pitching debut with the Washington Nationals. However, in late August he was diagnosed with a season-ending right-elbow injury requiring surgery that could keep him off the mound until 2012.

Now it’s the Blue Hens folks’ turn to worry over a young phenom of their own, especially after Delle Donne took herself out of action six minutes into Sunday’s afternoon game here at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena.

She quickly headed to the locker room and soon thereafter her mother Joanie was observed to be rushing in the same direction.

There was no immediate word of the cause of Delle Donne’s quick exit, which had the crowd of 693 buzzing with speculation. A member of the Delaware radio crew noted to the Guru that she had been playing all season with a back brace.

There was also some thought that perhaps she had been stricken with a stomach virus.

Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 forward, began Sunday’s action sluggishly. She had arrived with a 34.2 scoring average and nine rebounds per game. But she was scoreless in her brief appearance, missing an uncontested jump shot in one instance after she had grabbed a steal near mid-court.

However, Delle Donne was not taken to a hospital and at the end of halftime she emerged with the team still dressed in her uniform. But she went to the bench and stayed there the rest of the way as the Blue Hens (5-0) stayed unbeaten with a 59-48 win over the Explorers (2-4).

Delle Donne, who was not available to the media afterwards, didn’t seem in pain and chatted briefly with a friend or two on the way out the door with her teammates.

However, coach Tina Martin reported that her star player, who set 18 school records as a freshman and averaged 26.7 points per game, had not been feeling well. She noted that Delle Donne had struggled on Tuesday at home against St. Francis of Pa when most of her 26 points had occurred in the second half at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

“She had mononucleosis in high school and she doesn’t know if it’s that,” Martin said of Delle Donne’s senior season at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington when she missed 10 games. Despite the long absence, she still was named the 2008 national high school player of the year.

Delle Donne also missed some games last season with an ankle injury near the start and later with a foot injury caused when she stepped into a pothole on campus in the wake of a snowstorm. She also missed a half after getting hit in the elbow.

Still, Delle Donne’s exploits earned her both the rookie and player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association. She topped Drexel senior Gabriela Marginean and James Madison junior Dawn Evans in the MVP competition. Her presence enabled the Blue Hens to finish with their best record (21-12) since they won 26 games in 2006-07.

“She’s been on some medication,” Martin continued discussing Delle Donne’s health. “She’s just been sick.”

Delle Donne began getting national coverage because of her basketball skills dating back to the seventh grade. That’s when University of North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell was so impressed, she talked to Delle Donne’s father Ernie about giving his daughter a scholarship with the Tar Heels.

Years later, when it came time to name her collegiate choice, Delle Donne chose the University of Connecticut prior to the Huskies’ two-straight unbeaten championships.

UConn beat LSU 81-51 Sunday at home on its campus in Storrs, extending its NCAA record women’s win streak to 84 games. That’s four short of the 88 achieved by the fabled UCLA men’s teams under Hall of Fame legend John Wooden, who died earlier this year.

Delle Donne’s stay at UConn was extremely short.

She left the university in the middle of the night less than 48 hours after arriving for summer school in June 2008 and ultimately enrolled at nearby Delaware, but playing volleyball in 2008-09. Delle Donne played the sport as a high school senior.

She then decided to return to basketball a year ago, saying her reason for leaving UConn was really homesickness and not basketball burnout from all the years of attention. Her move gave Martin a prized catch for simply answering Delle Donne’s knock on the office door.

Back at Sunday’s game, Martin spoke of the discussion when Delle Donne sidelined herself at La Salle.

New Explorers coach Jeff Williams had no idea of the cause but said, "I was glad to see her leave the game at the time," in terms of a reduced threat from the Blue Hens.

“She said to me, `I just can’t go,’” Martin quoted Delle Donne. “`I feel like I am running on quicksand. I am just exhausted.’

“So, I don’t know,” Martin said of conditions surrounding the unknown illness. “I don’t know if it’s the medication she’s on. I know they changed the medication. I know she going to go back to see the doctor (Monday), to see if the doctor can look at it and see what’s going on. But I really don’t know.

“I just know she’s feeling really tired and she’s feeling very much under the weather,” Martin continued.

“I said, `Can you go?’ and she said, `No, I can’t.’ She said, `I just feel I just need to lay down.’ So bottom line is, when she’s feeling that way, she can’t play the game of basketball, obviously, so she’s got to go see a doctor and he’s got to figure it out.

“And hopefully, we figure out what’s wrong with her -- whether it’s the flu, and she’s just got a bad case of it, or whether she’s just starting to get sick, I mean, obviously, I hope it’s not mono, because she did have it in high school – I’m hoping it’s not that but we have to wait and see.

“If Elena’s out, we’re going to have to adjust even more,” Martin said of a Blue Hens squad that now has former St. Joseph’s star Sarah Acker, the Big Five rookie of the year in 2008. She became eligible a week ago and on Sunday Acker had 10 points, eight rebounds and blocked six shots.

“Sarah’s starting to get her feel wet,” Martin said. “The nice thing about Sarah is she plays very, very physical and tough and she obviously can score around the basket and she also rebounds the ball well.

“We just have to piece it together right now. The people who are healthy, that’s the people who we have to play with. This is the bad part of basketball season when you have kids who get sick, kids who get injured, you hope to limit it, but the game sometimes doesn’t allow that.”

Meanwhile Delaware on Wednesday hosts defending Ivy champion Princeton, which just upset Southern Cal in Vanderbilt’s tournament for the first win ever by the Tigers over a Pac-10 conference team.

Then on Sunday Princeton (3-2) took the No. 24 Commodores to the final minute before losing 74-68 in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt is 24-0 in 12 seasons hosting the event. The Tigers nearly beat Rutgers on the road two weeks ago.

“Elena’s sick,” Martin said looking ahead. “We have a couple of kids who are injured, and we have to regroup because we have a big one on Wednesday against Princeton. They’re playing great.

“We just have to take it on game at a time, one game at a time.”

Meanwhile, in Delle Donne’s situation, the wait is under way for a prognosis to determine whether her next game is coming soon and if not, why not?

-- Mel


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