Guru's Musings: WNBA's Delle Donne Getting Good at Scoring on Conventional Wisdom
By Mel Greenberg
NEW YORK -- While former Delaware star Elena Delle Done, the reigning unianimous choice of WNBA rookie of the year from last season, is known as a prolific scorer, there's something else she has become pretty good at -- shooting down conventional wisdom.
When she returned home to her native state after a quick 48-hour stay at powerful Connecticut at the outset of her original collegiate freshmen season in 2008 because of homesickness and a desire to be close to the family, the CW was how can you ever prepare yourself for a life in the pros playing at mid-major Delaware?
Answer: By virtually single-handedly, though it did take some teammate help to make it all work, lifting the Blue Hens into the national rankings, leading them to total domination of the Colonial Athletic Association her junior and senior seasons, and propelling them into two NCAA appearances, the latter of which resulted in a trip to the Sweet 16.
So when it became obvious she was going to be a very high pick in the draft of 2013, the CW crowd said, based on what happened with the UConn experience, how will Elena ever deal with being away from home?
Answer: No problem! Chicago is not all that far away for quick visits, the season is only a summer long, and hey, it is great fun using God-given skills to lead the Sky to a first-ever winning record and initial playoff appearance in seven tries and the regular season Eastern Conference title.
And when the CW crowd heard Delle Donne had no plans to play overseas like a large chunk of the top WNBA stars do to gain large financial augmentation to their American income, the chant was how will she ever improve her game?
And how much rust will she have by being not in a competitive situation all winter?
Well, the WNBA season is under way, and after two straight nights of back-to-back games at home in Chicago Friday and here in Madison Square Garden Saturday night, Delle Donne first led Chicago to a narrow home win over the Indiana Fever, which owned the Sky last season, scoring 23 points, and then followed up here Saturday night in a 79-65 win off an explosive 24-10 fourth quarter by scoring 23 points again, blocking a pair of shots and grabbing a pair of steals.
The performance finished off a week in which she got to make a homecoming appearance at Delaware against the Washington Mystics before a sellout crowd just under 5,000 Tuesday night in Chicago's final preseason game prior to this opening weekend.
At the moment Chicago is without top post star Sylvia Fowles, who may be out rehabbing for a few more weeks, and scorer and Rutgers alum, Epiphanny Prince, who told The Associate Press in an interview Saturday that she asked for and received permission to take some time off after going virtually non-stop year round since her decision to leave the Scarlet Knights after her junior season.
So now Chicago coach Pokey Chatman is using the same strategical language those of us on the Delaware beat heard from Blue Hens coach Tina Martin: basically on offense all roads go through or involve the native of Wilmington.
Considering it takes one great star to know another, here is how Tina Charles, the New York Liberty and former UConn all-American star who has arrived home to her native city after four seasons with the Connecticut Sun, assessed Delle Donne's game following Saturday night's action:
"Elena Delle Donne is going to go down in history as one of the greatest players in the WNBA -- just the way she carries herself on and off the court, you can tell she's always working on her game, she's talking to her teammates, and is well poised -- she's just a great player."
Delaware! Chicago Loves You
So with less than a week in taking the out-of-the-box step in giving Delle Donne a home game before a sellout crowd against the Washington in the Bob Carpenter Center where she had her previous success in high school (Ursuline Academy) and college, what did coach Chatman think of the experience?
"It was tremendous. We were thrilled and I'd love to go back and do it again."
The Sky mentor is not the only one giving kudos to Tuesday night's event at Delaware.
"There were a few little kinks that had to be worked out and adjusted, but that's to be expected when you make that kind of transition from normal venues where WNBA games are played," said Washington assistant coach Marianne Staley, a former Immaculata star who is going to be inducted with all her teammates from the Mighty Macs' golden era into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on August 7.
"Overall, it was really great. They should do that every year."
Some other WNBA teams have already expressed interest to the Guru in being a Chicago opponent to re-visit the BOB again.
And it could be that Delle Donne could make two homecoming trips next year.
Besides a return visit to the university, the fact that three of the four USA national coaches have ties to Philadelphia -- head coach Geno Auriemma of UConn, assistant coach Cheryl Reeve, of the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, and South Carolina coach and Philly legend Dawn Staley, a buzz is already building that it would be great for the national team to do a training camp in the City of Brotherly Love after the WNBA season, and perhaps play some kind of game in The Palestra.
"I love the idea of The Palestra," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who is a returning USA assistant to Auriemma and the Chicago sheep on the Philly-dominated ataff.
"Yeah, I'd love that," said Reeve in Washington Friday night after she got her defending champions off to a successful start beating the Mystics in the Verizon Center.
It might even be possible for the USA squad to play a collective group of local collegians, considering that in 1996 the year-long run up to the Olympics began in the fall with the Americans playing the top collegiate teams.
Actually, if Delle Donne is on the USA team, the Delaware 5,000-seat venue would not be big enough to house an expected crowd to see the top women's players in the world, making The Palestra or Temple's Liacouras Center the next obvious choice, though the Penn home arena has all those historical ties.
OK, N.Y.(mainstream) Media, Now What's the Excuse?
The Guru interrupts the news portion of this blog for the following paid, political rant:
Opening night for the first time in four seasons here Saturday in Madison Square Garden for the Liberty was a major success, even if the homecoming of the WNBA franchise after three summers across the Hudson River at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., during the Garden renovation, and the homeconing of Charles, acquired in a draft-day deal with the Connecticut Sun, was ruined by Chicago's victory.
However, besides some players, there was one noticeable absentee or group of them: Where was the locally-based New York media and what's the excuse.
This, by the way, is directed at management, not the ground troops who actually have to go where they are assigned.
For the past three seasons, with the exception for the most part of Newsday, who's Marcus Henry recently paseed away, suddenly, press row was devoid of such print entities as the New York Times (part philosophical reason), Daily News and Post, all of whom were not thrilled to have to travel out of Manhattan to New Jersey to cover the Liberty.
OK, we get that reluctance. We also get the scale back of newsrooms and in some cases changed assignments for sportswriters such as former longtime Daily News beat writer Kristie Ackert, who is now on the major league baseball beat.
But that reason is no longer viable.
OK, you don't have to be there every night.
But 9,000 people are there in the stands loading the place with energy throughout the evening and it seems the arena energy ran into a power failure when it came to the print management.
The one saving grace is that Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg, a colleague of your Guru, by being based in Gotham, is also the local women's writer for the wire service so his excellent copy will serve as a substitute.
But that is not a guarantee that what the AP transmits will be run in full.
So if you want to read the uncut version of Doug's work and boycott the locals at the same time (though thate risks the retort that no one is interested), then go to Yahoo sports.
The preceding section was paid for by Guru enterprises and he approves this message.
WBCA CEO/Executive Director Search Committee Is Selected
Trumpets were not sounded on the latest move to find a successor to former CEO and executive director Beth Bass of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, but the organization's website does announce the selectees of the search committee.
Former Atlantic Ten comissioner Linda Bruno's head-hunting orgnization that works primarily with athletic departments in filling vacancies was previously announced as the overall guide to aide the search group.
Eight individuals have been chosen: four head coaches, one of which is not at a Division I institution; one conference commissioner and one associate commissioner with a direct tie to the NCAA, one past head coach who is an associate athletic director, and one in-house staffer, who is serving as an ex-officio.
The in-house appointee is Shannon Reynolds, who is serving as interim in the wake of Bass' recent resignation.
The four coaches are Penn State's Coquese Washington, WBCA vice president, who seems is working on a side career move being on committees -- she was on the NCAA search group that reaulted in Anucha Browne'a hire as vice president of women's basketball; past president Doug Bruno of DePaul; South Carolina's Dawn Staley, who is a board member; and the non-Division I coach is Christy Thomascutty of Emory.
Since the appointments, Staley and Bruno were announced to be on the women's national team staff of UConn's Geno Auriemma for this season's World Championship in Turkey in late September.
Colorado associate athletic director Ceal Barry, a past WBCA member and former longtime coach at the university, is serving, as is Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference commissioner Rich Ensor, who is on the WBCA marketing committee.
Big 12 associate commissioner Dru Hancock has been on the NCAA's women's basketball committee and in the fall will become the chair.
A person familiar with the search said all candidates have to apply -- they can't juat have someone toss their name onto the table.
Concept-wise, various coaches in side speculation are suggesting that the hire be youthful and have a business acumen.
For example, a decline in sponsorship in the past year caused the organization to drop the annual high school all-star game at the Women's Final Four.
Some people also feel that having past experience dealing with the WBCA in any capacity would be helpful along with the previous mentioned traits.
One individsual said, whoever the frontrunner becomes, that person needs to have a strong passion for women's basketball, especially if the person doesn't arise from a sector familiar to people.
Felicia Hall Allen, who with her husband Johnny runs the Step Up program for assistant coaches and played for Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa, recently expressed interest in the position.
"That is more my thing," she said. "I think that ia my calling."
Allen was one of the other three finalists in the search that eventually produced Anucha Browne at the NCAA.
Another name getting speculated is Danielle Donehew, in charge of women's basketball at The American conference and previously the former Big East configuration.
She is a native of Atlanta, near the home office of the WBCA, and was once basketball operations director on the staff of Tennessee coach emritus Pat Summit.
Remembering Mary Jo
On the train traveling here Saturday, the Guru missed a call from Gillian Rattray, the former field hockey coach at Penn State who lived in State College with Mary Jo Haverbeck, the longtime women's basketball sports information director for the Lady Lions who died in early January after a brief illness.
Rattray left a note saying she had heard of the recent honors in Haverbeck'a memory, forever thank you and that she herself had moved to what sounded like one of those assisted living communities because she, herself, was not in great health, and that her cell phone was in bad shape so getting calls back or communicating in general was an adventure.
That's all the regular news in a separate post as the ongoing tributes to Ginny Doyle continue on the Guru's blog.
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