Chicago Sky Hopes to Rise in WNBA After Making Delaware's Elena Delle Donne Overall No. 2 Pick
BRISTOL, Conn. – The long-running story of Delaware women’s basketball senior sensation Elena Delle Donne entered its next phase Monday night when the Blue Hens all-American was taken second overall in the WNBA draft by the Chicago Sky here at ESPN headquarters.
The draft was broadcast live in prime time for the first time ever, given the attention focused on Delle Donne and two other highly valued stars in Baylor’s Brittney Griner, who went first to the Phoenix Mercury, and Notre Dame stellar point guard Skylar Diggins, taken third by the Tulsa Shock.
Delle Donne, who took Delaware to the NCAA Sweet 16 in her last hurrah as a collegian, is considered the key to Chicago making the playoffs for the first time in the Sky’s seven-year history, counting the coming 17th season of the 12-team WNBA.
Chicago missed the playoffs by a game to New York in the Eastern Conference last season, though coach Pokey Chatman’s team would technically need two wins since the Liberty held the tiebreaker.
“You don’t want to say where you want to go before this is all happening,” Delle Donne said at the media interview here soon after her pick. “But Chicago was definitely my pick, and I wanted to go there really, really bad.”
Delle Donne will have at least one former great from the UConn team she spurned her freshman season in Swin Cash as a teammate on the squad that also has former Rutgers great Epiphanny Prince and former LSU sensation Sylvia Fowles.
The Sky resisted the marketing motivation to go virtual hometown in its choice, which would have been the reason for taking Diggins, who is from South Bend., Ind., the home of Notre Dame’s campus.
Though Chicago is in the East, the Sky won’t hit the seaboard cities for the first time until July 7th when they visit the New York Liberty,
which will play one more summer in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., while renovations to Madison Square Garden are completed.
There’s a little irony there in that Delaware is located in the other Newark not far from Delle Donne’s home in the Wilmington suburbs. It was her senior high school season in 2007-08 at Ursuline Academy that she was considered the top prospect in the country.
Choosing Connecticut from a final group that included Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and Villanova, Delle Donne went for the powerful Huskies, only to last less than 48 hours on campus before an attack of homesickness sent her scurrying home where at the end of the summer of August 2008 she enrolled at Delaware but opted to play only volleyball.
Several months later, however, she realized basketball was still her passion, and she approached Tina Martin about joining the Blue Hens, with whom she was able to take them to new vistas as well as re-establish herself as a prize pick for the WNBA.
Delle Donne, whose brother Gene is handling her agent matters, will be on television right from the get-go on Memorial Day weekend, appearing on a WNBA doubleheader in which the Sky will visit Phoenix and Griner on Monday, May 27.
The way Delle Donne handled herself in the press conference made one envision that among the three players who have been focused by ESPN all during the collegiate season, including Griner and Diggins, she may end up beating out the other two in terms of promoting the league.
That’s not to say the other two are not worthy, t hat hunch surfaced during her presentation.
Delle Donne spoke like she had already moved on to her next chapter, telling reporters she wants to “leave a legacy” in Chicago, from which she always had been an NBA Bulls fan because of Michael Jordan.
“This is a phenomenal team that I’ll be joining,” she said. “There’s a lot of players who’ll be mentors for me and really help me out along the way. I think I’m going to learn a ton from these players and also elevate my game. We definitely have a great team. I felt like I was a really good puzzle piece for this team.”
Chicago assistant coach Jeff House under former LSU coach Pokey Chatman recruited Delle Donne when she was in high school and he was an assistant at Virginia to Hall of Famer and former Cavaliers coach Debbie Ryan.
“If someone told me in five years I would be the No. 2 draft pick going to the Chicago Sky to play my professional career, I would have told you you were crazy,” Delle Donne said while also retorting about her Connecticut situation saying “I was an 18-year-old girl and now I’m a 23-year-old woman.”
The Delle Donne Eastern tour after the initial New York visit includes in order a visit to the Connecticut Sun July 12, back to New York in Newark on July 18, then on to nearby Washington July 24, back to Connecticut on Aug. 9, and then two more visits to Washington on August 20 and Sept. 8.
There’s also a chance she could be a participant at the All-Star in Connecticut July 27 and also back on the seaboard in the postseason if the Sky finally make the playoffs.
But for those Delaware fans who want to travel, unwitting good help has come from Fontier Airlines, which has cheap fares – it also flies out of Trenton – and will be opening service to Chicago from Wilmington’s airport in July.
Speaking of money, according to the CBA, which expires after this year, as a top four pick, Delle Donne will earn the rookie salary of $48,470 this summer once she makes the roster on opening day and then increasing to $49,440 next season, $54,350 in 2015, and $61,800 in 2016.
Those future figures could increase under the new cba, which it is negotiated and signed.
Chicago was at several of Delle Donne’s games this past season while she was leading Delaware to a second straight unbeaten Colonial Athletic Association title and Chatman, who spends most of winter coaching in Russia, was at St. John’s in New York the night she led the Blue Hens to a win, scoring just before overtime expired.
Two Penn State seniors were also taken in Alex Bentley, who went at the top of the second round to the Atlanta Dream, 13th overall, while Nikki Greene went 26th overall and second in the third round to Phoenix.
“It’s a dream come true and I’m going to play for the Dream,” Bentley quipped.
If she makes the roster, Bentley and everyone else in the third round will start at $38,500 and increase to $49,088 in 2016, new CBA deals notwithstanding.
Greene as a third round pick starts $37,950 and increases eventually to $46,450.
Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s Chatilla van Grinsven, who was named the Big Five player of the year on Tuesday, signed a training camp deal with the Connecticut Sun.
“Several teams called but I really like them,” van Grinsven said Tuesday night at the Hawks’ annual awards dinner, which was quite the ritzy affair this time around at Drexelbrook after winning the A-10 title and playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
Atlantic 10 associate commissioner Wendy Larry, the former longtime coach at Old Dominion, was the featured speaker.
The Sun’s top rookie pick is senior UConn star Kelly Faris, who went 11th but was thrilled to be staying in the state where she helped lead the Huskies to their eighth national title last week in New Orleans.
Former Temple star Shey Peddy, who was the Big Five player of the year last season, is an invitee to the Washington Mystics camp, which will be run by new coach Mike Thibault, who was head of the Connecticut Sun coaching staff for 10 seasons before being let go last winter after the team fell short by one game in the Eastern Conference finals.
Camps open May 5.