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, August 15, 2011

Guru's Musings: Delle Donne Playing On USA Squad With Collegiate Elites

(Guru’s note. There is a WNBA report blog from Sunday games, etc., above this post.)

By Mel Greenberg

When Elena Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 national high school player of the year in 2008, announced her return to basketball in the spring of 2009, playing near her home at the University of Delaware, the street-talk reaction was two-fold.

There were those happy for her that she regained her passion for the sport that she gave up along with a scholarship to powerful Connecticut in the summer of 2008 and then decided to enroll in the Blue Hens volleyball program near her home in the nearby Wilmington suburbs, if such a description exists.

There was happiness that she could have the comforts of family life she said she would have missed being with the Huskies – 90-game win streak and two national titles or not.

But from the basketball side there were doubts about whether she could be THAT Elena Delle Donne out of Ursuline Academy who drew attention from coaches around the country long before she reached high school competition.

Delaware was nice, but it’s the Colonial Athletic Association, not the Big East where night after night the competition is almost like playing in a mini-WNBA.

Never mind the conference does offer great competitive basketball even if there aren’t a zillion nationally-ranked teams as there are in the Big East.

And though she made an immediate impact, winning both the rookie and player of the year honors in the CAA in her first season of competition after missing her natural freshman year, and though year two last season saw her lead the Blue Hens through several upsets to the conference title game, the questions still persisted.

Her freshman year, for example, was also marked by a series of injuries that knocked her out of games, including the somewhat comical and also bizarre incident when she missed a few games after stepping in a pothole that appeared inthe parking lot near her dormitory room after a heavy snowfall.

Then a large portion of last season found Delle Donne on the sidelines suffering from fatigue and missing 12 games with a mystery illness until doctors finally concluded she had contracted Lyme Disease.

But as the season neared its end and the Blue Hens struggled, Delle Donne worked herself back into enough shape that she helped pull a quarterfinal upset of Old Dominion, the former perennial conference champ, that might have set in motion the ouster of longtime and popular Monarchs coach Wendy Larry.

Then in the semifinals Delaware came through again upsetting one of the Cinderellas in UNC Wilmington, which took a great leap forward with the hiring of former WNBA great Cynthia Cooper-Dyke as coach.

But powerful James Madison, which had the perk of a bye in the opening round, road blocked Delaware’s bid to get to the NCAAs in the conference title game.

With the season over, following a first-round loss at eventual WNIT champion Toledo, Delle Donne decided she wanted to get to the next level on a path that didn’t mean she would have to bolt the Blue Hens.

And so with the World University Games tryouts on the horizon Delle Donne worked herself back into her pre-Delaware she’s picked UConn days.

By the way, she had missed two USA Basketball teams in that period in successive summers because of injuries and other matters.

“She’s the best she’s been since she enrolled here,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said in the spring as the trials loomed. “I mean she did a lot for us in the conference tournament because she wanted us to win and go to the NCAAs, but she still wasn’t herself. But she’s in great shape now.”

And so here was the first test in terms of arriving in a place she was supposed to reach through a different highway. The World University Games invite list included the who’s who at the collegiate level. These were the futures – the group many of whom will eventually become Olympians in 2016 as well as players in the WNBA.

To make the 12-team roster, considering the so-called CAA drag (not my terminology, just using it for discussion purposes) and the competition would surely be an accomplishment, though if she was coming out of UConn, her selection might have been a given.

Ironically, because the Huskies are heading to Europe on a tour of Italy, none tried out for the World University Games, though most of the roster loaded with youth went the U-19 route and ended up winning a gold medal under Hartford coach and former UConn star Jen Rizzotti.

But the other irony is that had there been no European tour and had her good friend Caroline Doty from AAU days with Fencor in the Philly burbs not still been dealing with rehabbing a knee injury, there might have been a reunion on the USA roster.

Doty, incidentally, was the originally intended roommate with Delle Donne, who ended up staying on the UConn campus just one day at the summer school session before bolting back home in the middle of the night in June, 2008.

But the point is that despite all that, Delle Donne is on a team that she might have made anyway had none of the well-chronicled drama happened in the months leading up to her approaching Martin and asking on the Blue Hens.

And on night number one Saturday, Delle Donne was a starter in a lineup with three stars from NCAA runnerup Notre Dame of the Big East and scored 17 points in a blowout opening-game win.

On Sunday night, the USA squad won easily again 114-63 over Slovakia.

Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters each scored 14 points in the win, while Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogumike also scored 14 and her sister Chiney from Stanford scored 13. Baylor’s Odyssey Sims scored 10 points, while Delle Donne was the only double double performer with 10 points and 10 rebounds while also connecting on 3-of-4 three-point attempts.

So, on one hand, some patience should be held back until it is determined who wins the gold medal and there are four more games to be played.

But considering the All-American material in the same lineup, Delle Donne is there right among them, so, perhaps, this is the way the fates decided how things she be played out for her.

The addendum to this is considering one can only benefit from the experience of the competition and teammates on the USA squad, if Delle Donne stays injury-free and considering the additions to the Delaware roster this season what potential might the Blue Hens have?

Incidentally, Delle Donne is chronicling her exploits at the Blue Hens athletic website on the internet.

In an interview with USA Basketball at the organization’s website Delle Donne said she would like to play in the WNBA.

Well, considering that Baylor superstar Britney Griner, who is in the Olympics pool, will go number one overall in the 2013 WNBA draft, it would not be a surprise to see Delle Donne land with the Washington Mystics, if not the New York Liberty, which would then offer a chance to be as close to home as she could get.

And next spring should Delaware win the CAA and go to the NCAA tournament, any matchup with Connecticut in an early round will be more by accident and the numbers than by design, unless ESPN has a vote.

Edwards’ Lucky Number

Though the Tulsa Shock can’t get past the number one so far in terms of wins this season in the WNBA, interim coach Teresa Edwards is kind of partial to the number five, which she alluded to this past weekend in conversations surrounded her induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“I guess that is my number,” Edwards, the former Georgia and Olympic great, said. “That was my number at Georgia, I’m in five Halls of Fame, there are five children in my family, I guess I should be partial to that number.”

Staley Next Up For Naismith?

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, the former Virginia, Olympics, and WNBA star who also coached for eight years at Temple in her hometown Philadelphia, should be enshrined in Naismith the next time around, if the Guru has the retirement calendar figured correctly.

Naismith usually follows the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame retirement calendar cycle by several months in terms of its own requirements for eligibility.

Based on that, Staley, who was just named to the WBHOF class of 2012, should be voted forward by the women’s committee in Springfield.

By the way, lost in the shuffle several weeks ago with the announcement of Staley along with her making the WNBA all-time top 15 selectees to honor the pro league’s 15th anniversary, was that she will also be inducted in November to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame along with pioneer Ora Washington.

And if there is any wondering, UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma was on the Philly ballot.

Meanwhile, at Springfield, there were some backroom discussions about enlarging the number of candidates put forth from two to perhaps four considering the growth of the game.

“With the WNBA being around 15 years, you have people who have become great in that time, even if they weren’t as notable in college, but do you preclude those that starred at the collegiate level,” said one Hall executive who is an advocate of the women’s game but has no voting power.

“And you have coaches coming along every year.”

Indeed, former UConn great Rebecca Lobo has been bypassed in recent years because of player emphasis on the pro game from subcommittee members.

But while some who have been put forward deserved to be in their own right, so does Lobo. And, if one goes back far enough, former Immaculata star Theresa Grentz could be a candidate in an enlarged group as could her former Mighty Macs teammate Marianne Stanley.

At this point in time, there are also more coaches at the collegiate level producing milestone accomplishments such as Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw, who played at St. Joseph’s and was part of the recent inductee class to the WBHOF in June.

Incidentally, while at the inductions in Springfield to cover the women’s inductees for you all, the Guru was invited to the celebrations surrounding inductee Herb Magee of Division II Philadelphia University.

Magee, who has more wins – over 900 -- than any other coach at any divisional level of the NCAA, has often given shooting
clinics at the camps of former Immaculata coach Cathy Rush, who is a past recent inductee into Naismith as is Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Helping organize the Magee celebrations was Philly U. athletic director Tom Shirley, the Rams’ women’s coach who last season passed his 600th career win.

That number should be reached early in the season this winter by Villanova’s Harry Perretta, who signed off at 598 in March at the Big East tournament.

-- Mel


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's great news about Delle Donna. How valuable is it for UCONN to have five of its players working out on the U-19 team together. I would think that it provides a huge jump start, along with the Italy tour? Will they be the team to beat in the BE or is it ND?

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good article about Delle Donne making the USA team as confirmation of her previous national status. Now we have the rest of the story. She led the USA team in scoring, rebounding and minutes. She was among the leaders in other categories. In the toughest game against pro-type players from Australia, she led and played almost the entire game. Coach Fennelly said she was the best player on the team. Yes, redemption, more than all-american, she is still the premiere player.

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