Guru's College Report II: Departed Delaware Grad Elena Delle Donne Still A Dominant Force at CAA Media Day
By Mel Greenberg
BALTIMORE – Former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne made a virtual but not live encore appearance of sorts here Tuesday at the annual Colonial Athletic Association media day following her smashing WNBA–debut season on the Chicago Sky which landed her the media panel’s unanimous choice as rookie of the year.
If the All-American and 2008 national high school player of the year out of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., had stayed on her original path and pursued her collegiate career at powerful Connecticut, Tuesday’s talk on the women’s side of the event might have focused more on the departure of former CAA heavyweight Old Dominion, which moved on to Conference USA, or the new member arrival of College of Charleston with Natasha Adair, or the debut of three new coaches – Natasha Adair as part of the new member package, Niki Reid Geckler, moving from Howard to Towson, and Ed Swanson, moving from Sacred Heart to William and Mary.
George Mason and Georgia State also left the conference.
Adair, as an assistant who had been a runner up for the Temple vacancy six years ago, and Geckler have past ties to Georgetown with Geckler having been one of the more prominent players in the old Big East during her collegiate career.
All three were approached, however, as media members made their rounds to the tables to interview the nine each men’s and women’s coaches. Old Dominion’s exit, though, received barely a whisper with the big noise coming a year ago with the Monarchs’ announcement of their future intentions.
And maybe Drexel would have gotten some extra love for winning the WNIT, though with a preseason pick for second behind James Madison from the CAA coaches, the Dragons certainly earned some respect.
But with Delle Donne and six other Delaware seniors from last season gone from the scene of a two-year unbeaten domination in the conference by the Blue Hens, coach Tina Martin answered the obvious questions, with perhaps one-more go-round on opening night, about a squad that is so young the roster suggests that most of the players might have won spots in competition at her summer camps.
Delaware was picked fifth in the league.
Delle Donne’s place, now part of the CAA lure, means that it has become safe for Delaware opponents to praise her exploits instead of concentrating on how to triple-team her in the nightly conference wars that kick into play once the new year arrives on the calendar in January.
Akeema Richards, picked on the All-CAA preseason second team, is the only returning starter at Delaware, which has six freshmen – one a redshirt, and five sophomores – two also redshirts, and a junior to go with Richards and senior center Kelsey Buchanan.
Martin said there really was no nostalgia or strange feelings on her part when practice got under way without her scoring machine and her six classmates.
“It’s exciting because it gives us an opportunity to give a fresh look at everybody,” Martin said.
“Certainly though freshmen and sophomores who didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last year, but got some, are going to have to step up and play some huge roles.
“We graduated over 6,000 points (3,000-plus by Delle Donne), over 3,000 rebounds, and over 3,000 assists just from our seven seniors, and it’s impressive when you look at those numbers – certainly even with Elena,” Martin continued.
“Because certainly, (Daniel) Parker was a 1,000-point scorer, a 1,000-rebounder, (Lauren) Carra was a 1000-point scorer, so the majority of that was done by the entire team, obviously, and it’s definitely a re-birth with all these freshmen and sophomores, so you’re definitely going to need a roster to see who’s on our team,” Martin added.
“I was really excited,” she said about the first day of practice. “The group did what they needed to do to put their mark on history. And they certainly did put their mark on history. I don’t think another team will accomplish what they accomplished – being undefeated (in the CAA), back-to-back years, that’s not an easy task, certainly that was a huge, huge mark as they put their stamp on the history of Delaware women’s basketball.
“But no, I pretty much let that all go in the summertime,” Martin related. “I had a couple of evenings where I sat down and just looked at the highlights and really enjoyed that, and spent some time with my seniors and really enjoyed that, and then I was ready to move on, just like they’re ready to move on with life and they’re really doing well.
“So I was ready at the first day of practice – OK, who are all these new people and let’s work with them and get them to be the best people and then the best basketball players they can be. So I was excited about the first day of practice.” Martin explained.
“There has not been a down day for me. Really, there has not. I’m very, very refreshed and excited to work with these youngsters.”
She also talked about Drexel winning the WNIT and also her good friend and colleague, Dragons coach Denise Dillon, who represented the women’s coaches in remarks after lunch and got one of her Delle Donne references combined by tossing a shot at the Guru, noting after saying some nice things about him that she has given him grief spending more time outside the Philadelphia city limits at Delle Donne’s games then at Drexel.
“I knew she’d have a great shot (winning the WNIT),” Martin said. “In our league all the coaches have respect for Drexel and the job that Denise does. It just shows you how good the women’s side of the C AA is.”
Kenny Brooks also noted Delle Donne as well as the return of a bit of old times with his James Madison squad picked to win the league and his senior guard Kirby Burkholder named preseason player of the year.
“A lot of people say, are you happy that Delle Donne’s gone,” the veteran coach said. “There are only two people that are disappointed she’s gone – that’s me and Tina.
“I thought what she brought to our league was tremendous and you don’t get that very often,” Brooks said. “I thought she raised the level of play in our league, and the expectations in our league, and obvious with them going to the Sweet 16, that was a great accomplishment.
“Hopefully, people will understand what Elena did over the summer – she not only did that for the Chicago Sky, she did it for the CAA and Delaware and I was really proud of her. I said with all these (NCAA) rules changes (cleaning up defenses), that if those rules had been in place in the past, Elena would have scored 6,000 points against the CAA,” Brooks continued.
“I loved competing against her. Unfortunately she’s not around anymore and we have to compete against the people who are here and I like our chances and I like our team.”
Brooks also alluded to Drexel’s success, saying, “I’ve said all along our league is underrated. We continue to get one bid and we had a run two years ago to the WNIT final game, and last year we got to the quarterfinals and Drexel was able to get over the hump and win it.
“It just goes to show how good our league is and should put people on notice.”
As for Drexel’s outlook, Dillon noted that despite the graduation of Hollie Mershon, “Some people think we have some things to work with. With Meghan Creighton at the point (guard slot), she gives you a lot of security. She understands what needs to be done – initiating the offense, keeping everyone on the same page.
“We’re just asking her to grow up a little sooner than most people would expect from a sophomore. With her game experience, she knows what has to be done – she just has to learn how to communicate it to her teammates.”
After Drexel, the third pick was Northeastern, which had the biggest turnaround and landed Daynia La-Force coach of the year honors.
Towson was picked fourth and the Tigers have a new spectacular addition not on the roster but prominent nonetheless in their brand new 5,000-seat SECU Arena that upgrades the home court in suburban Baltimore from one of the poorer ones around to a state of the art facility that should quickly become a host site possibly for NCAA women’s tournament early rounds.
Delaware followed at fifth and then the rest of the forecast in order consisted of Hofstra, College of Charleston, UNCW, and William & Mary.
The rest of the All-Conference first team to go with Burkholder is her JMU teammate Precious Hall, UNCW’s Kelva Atkins, Towson’s Tanisha McTiller, and Northeastern Jewel Tunstull.
Joining Delaware’s Richards on the second team are C of C’s Alyssa Frye, Northeastern’s A’lece Mark, Hofstra’s Anma Onyeuku and the Pride’s Andreana Thomas.
Drexel’s Creighton and Fiona Flanagan were named honorable mention along with Nyree Williams of Towson.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad