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.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Guru's Report: Delle Donne Racks Up Another Delaware Record

(Guru's note: The roundup is in a post below this. If you are in melgreenberg.com, just click the mel's blog button on the left column to get to blogspot and the full archives.)

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. – In a week that events in the WNBA were giving Delaware junior sensation Elle Donne more things to consider about her future career in the pros those developments continue to be pushed aside by her ongoing accomplishments at the collegiate level.

On Thursday night Delle Donne eclipsed her pre-game NCAA-leading 28.8 scoring average, totaling 37 while grabbing nine rebounds, dealing three assists, blocking four shots and grabbing a steal to lead the 22nd-ranked Blue Hens to a 74-51 victory over Towson (10-3, 1-1 CAA) in a Colonial Athletic Association contest before a near-sellout crowd of 3,804 at home in the Bob Carpenter Center.

With the resumption of competing the rest of the way for the CAA title Delaware is favored to win, the Blue Hens upped their record to 11-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference.

Delle Donne also connected on 16-for-22 shots from the field, made both foul shot attempts and was 3-for-5 shooting three-pointers from beyond the arc while playing 36 of the game’s 40 minutes.

When she scored her 28th point on a layup with 11 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game she became Delaware’s all-time career scorer eclipsing Cindy Johnson’s mark of 1,675 points set in 1997-01.

Johnson rushed from her workplace outside of Washington where she owns two businesses to be on the scene and witness her mark eclipsed after receiving a text from Delaware coach Tina Martin to make her aware another shining moment in both Delle Donne and Delaware history.

Martin was unaware how much Delle Donne needed until informed by the school’s sports information department earlier in the day.

“Maybe I was the last to know,” she smiled.

It took Johnson 113 games to set the former record that Delle Donne claimed in a little more than half the time playing in her 63rd game, which was against the Tigers.

The record might have fallen earlier but Delle Donne missed several games her freshman season with an assortment of nagging injuries, the most notable was when she stepped into a pothole in the parking lot of her dorm that had come into existence following a recent snowfall.

Last season Delle Donne missed 12 more games while struggling to learn what was causing her to be fatigued until doctors determined she was suffering from Lyme’s Disease.

She fought her way back onto the court near the end of the season and led the Blue Hens to two stunning upsets in the CAA tournament that carried them to the title game before James Madison stopped the run.

As she became closer to earning a clean bill of health, Delle Donne worked herself into shape to land a spot on the USA Basketball World University Games team.

The squad was comprised of the nation’s best collegians and she helped gain a gold medal as the top American squad scorer and rebounder in the competition in China during the summer.

“Obviously, she’s healthy this year and it’s unbelievable to be a part of it,” said Delaware’s Lauren Carra who had 10 points as did Jocelyn Bailey against Towson.

The Tigers’ Tanisha McTiller had 16 points while Deree Fooks and Krystal Parnell each scored 10. Towson’s other losses were to No. 1 Connecticut and No. 5 Maryland, which also beat Delaware but were held to a nine-point differential at 86-75 in the Terrapins’ Comcast Center last week in College Park.

Johnson’s senior season saw Delaware win its first conference title to date when the Blue Hens were in the America East to win an automatic bid that gave them their first NCAA appearance.

“It took 10 years for the record to fall and we had some great players since then,” Martin said. “I told Elena it may take 50 before her mark falls.”

In many ways the 6-foot-5 multi-dimensional star from nearby Wilmington is a tree killer in terms of the amount of paper needed to chronicle both her exploits and still do justice to some account of the actual game she and her Blue Hens execute as they continue to make program history.

But fortunately when computers and the Internet came into existence their technological creations became useful to have around for the day that Delle Donne would become a high impact player in women’s basketball.

So that said, a quick timeout to briefly summarize the action.

The Blue Hens struggled early and though Delle Donne had 19 of her points at halftime Martin was not happy to be ahead by just a 30-23 differential and told reporters after the game she emphatically said as much to her squad.

The squad responded and went on to outscore the Tigers 44-28 the final 20 minutes. Next up is a visit Sunday to George Mason in Fairfax, Va., near Washington.

Delaware players were asked if helping Delle Donne going for the record might have contributed to the ragged start.

But here’s the reality to that implication and makes her performance even more noteworthy.

She needed 28 points prior to the game. It’s one thing if someone is on the verge of a record and needs just a few points going into action and the total is easy for everyone to head count.

But 28 points is a tough total to keep track of when Delaware is out there aiming for major team accomplishments.

With most other players, a shortfall of 28 points would be accompanied by the expectation that it might take two or three games to get that total.

However, Delle Donne is such a threat to score a ton of points each time that Delaware officials went over more than a few scenarios with Towson representatives on how the record would be announced depending what the game situation was when it occurred.

But with all her accomplishments dating back to being named National High School Player of the Year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy, Delle Donne approached the game as another day at the office and both she and Martin discussed how unaware she was.

The crowd, however, was tracking everything and when she tied the mark several minutes earlier an extra roar went up before they all quickly rose and applauded when she set the new mark.

“I wasn’t thinking about it, honestly,” Delle Donne said. “We had kind of a slow first half and I think I needed to score and attack the glass as much as possible because some shots weren’t falling.

“Really, it wasn’t about the record or anything like that, it was just doing what we needed to do to get the win. It’s tough to play against CAA teams and you have to be ready for every team because obviously we do have that target on our back.

“We knew Towson was a great team.”

Johnson walked over to the Delaware bench to congratulate Delle Donne after her record was broken.

“She said, `Great job. Enjoy the feeling.’ She knew what it was like to once break that record and she really wanted me to enjoy that moment as much as I could,” Delle Donne related.

Asked where the record ranked in her huge collection of achievements, Delle Donne said, “I always put individual honors behind any team honors. We’ve done some amazing things this year as a team.

“I would put them behind (upsetting) Penn State, even tough games like Maryland. This individual honor is a team honor as well. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates’ passes.

“I have a phenomenal supporting cast so this is a team honor as well. It definitely means a lot and is a great feeling.”

Martin went over the game specifics and then turned to talk about Delle Donne.

“It was awesome for Cindy to come up here tonight. She’s such a classy kid – my first recruit. It was really cool.”

Martin had relayed to Johnson that even though Delle Donne needed 28, there was no question that she’d get the points Thursday and get them quickly.

“Elena is the type of person who can score in bunches,” Martin said. “When we were struggling in th first she went to the boards hard and caught a couple of boards -- she can score in so many ways.

“She can score 30 or 35 just because she does so in all aspects of the game.

“Elena doesn’t keep count – she just plays the game. The kid’s broken so many and has had so many – the list goes on to the ceiling of the Bob (Delaware’s arena.)

“I don’t think that fazes Elena. Fifty in games. Consecutive free throws. From eighth grade on, this all-American, that all-American. I don’t think that fazes Elena. It’s just one more accolade she deserves,” Martin continued.

“I don’t think she knew about it. She just came out here and played her game and led her team to victory. As always, she’s such a competitor – honestly nothing she does surprises me.

“When you have a player as talented as Elena and who works hard and is into it, there’s nothing that can really surprise you. You know she’s a competitor and she’s going to step on the floor and she’s going to try to give you her A-game every night. That’s what she tries to do – she tries to give this team her A-game every night.

“It didn’t surprise me that she got the record tonight.

“I don’t think she knew about the record. She said to me, `What is going on?’

“I said to her, `This is Cindy Johnson, she had the record, and (Delle Donne) said, `Oh, OK.’”

Martin smiled and said she had to prod Delle Donne to acknowledge the crowd when the record was btroken.

“Elena Delle Donne is obviously the best player to play at Delaware – she’s the best player to ever come out of our state. But that’s a great statement when you look at Val Whiting and all these great players (Rutgers’ Khadijah Rushdan). Obviously, she’s terrific.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if she goes and scores – if she decides to stay as a senior – that she’d score 3,000 points and go after the NCAA record.

“Our offense runs through her. She is extremely talented. Our kids do a good job getting her the ball. We match hard work with talent. And when hard work and talent meet, special things happen. She’s special. We all know that. I’m not making a statement that somebody doesn’t know.

“From a player’s perspective, I’ve been around players who have scored a lot of points, break a lot of records, done those things. They’re competitors. It’s all about the winning for Elena. I have someone on my staff who scored 2,000 points. I scored 2,000 points. For us and Elena, it’s all about the competitor. It’s all about winning.

“I think the sky’s the limit for Elena. It wouldn’t shock me if she got 3,000 points.”

Elena is not the only one really soaring down here.

Talk about impact once more. Delaware continues to hold the No. 1 position in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings used by the NCAA committee to pick at-large teams and seed the field.

Though the Blue Hens want the easy way to the Big Dance with a CAA title and automatic bid, the ranking indicates Delaware has some margin of error to take a few hits in conference play and still land in the field if the Blue Hens don’t win the crown.

Of course, the more wins, the better the seed.

The ranking may soon drop a bit but it certainly won’t plunge during the CAA portion of the schedule.

By comparison a year ago when the Blue Hens finished 20-13 in part because of Delle Donne’s illness, the RPI was 86 and the strength of schedule was 91.

Delaware next travels to George Mason in Fairfax, Va., Sunday and returns here against UNCW next Thursday.

Delle Donne And The WNBA

Meanwhile, several knowledgeable athletic department sources said the Blue Hens have made a bid to be a first and second round host site at next season’s NCAA tournament – a move made without knowing for sure if Delle Donne will return next season.

“Because her true senior season is now – she played volleyball when she enrolled in 2008-09 after foregoing a scholarship from powerful Connecticut – Delle Donne could announce just before April’s draft if she will turn pro for this summer or return for one more season.

That announcement could come earlier – in the next few weeks – a source familiar with Delle Donne’s deliberations said.

It is apparent that Martin may not yet know of Delle Donne’s plans since she used the phrase – “if she decides to stay” – in talking about her star’s big night in the previous item.

The Los Angeles Sparks have the No. 1 overall pick and on Thursday they announced Atlanta Dream assistant Carol Ross, who also coached Mississippi and Florida in the NCAA, is the new coach.

Joe Bryant, the father of NBA Lakers star Kobe Bryant, was promoted as an interim head coach early in the season after Jennifer Gillom was let go by the Sparks.

Once before a similar situation occurred and then he became the Sparks head coach.

The Seattle Storm have the number two pick, acquired earlier in the week with a trade with the Chicago Sky. Though Seattle is far from Delle Donne’s home, the Storm are one of several teams to her liking for different reasons.

But staying with the Blue Hens one more year, while reaping the rewards of continued success, could mean landing closer to home in 2013 if the New York Liberty and/or Washington Mystics miss the playoffs this summer and land in the lottery. The Connecticut Sun would also be nice, irony and all.

But a wild card exists in all this, according to several knowledgeable WNBA sources as to the potential scenario.

Junior Brittney Griner of top-ranked Baylor, who had been assumed to be the projected No. 1 pick of 2013 – her senior season, and Notre Dame junior Skylar Diggins will both be 22 years old in 2012.

Besides the exception of leaving early from college if one’s true senior class is that season, the WNBA labor agreement also allows players to leave early if they will be 22 before the draft.

Diggins is likely to stay but Griner, like former Tennessee star Candace Parker who left one year early in 2008, could be considering the big payday arriving earlier by playing in Europe alongside her future WNBA career.

Stay tuned.

-- Mel


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The eligibility rule requires a player to turn 22 in the calendar year of the draft. Diggins (August) and Griner (October) are thus eligible, but would not be under the rule as you state it (22 prior to the draft).

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Elena would fit well with LA. She seems to thrive outside the lime light. Seattle would be best. They have two of the best players in the world there who had to travel a long way to get to Seattle and were aprehensive about the move, but then they fell in love with the city and have publicly said they won't play anywhere else in the WNBA. Those great leaders will help her adjust and prosper as a pro. PLEASE COME TO SEATTLE ELENA!

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Elena would become a pro if she were drafted by Washington or New York. I don't see her playing too far from Delaware.

2:35 AM  
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