Guru's WNBA Musings: Delle Donne Exploits in Chicago Game Not New to Longtime Observers
By Mel Greenberg
Apparently former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne doesn't have much interests in consolation prizes.
Had not the WNBA reigning rookie of the year put the Chicago Sky on her back Tuesday night in Atlanta to finish reducing a first-half 20-point deficit and nail the game winner in the final seconds for an 81-80 victory, the Dream would be headed back to the Eastern Conference finals and Delle Donne could look forward to a second homecoming appearance this season at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark next month.
That's when the United States senior women's national team, following a training period Sept. 8-10 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., will make a stop Sept. 11 at Delle Donne's alma mater where she became one of the NCAA all-time collegiate women's greats, especially her junior and senior seasons with the Blue Hens.
The event is billed as a Showcase in which it is basically a psuedo WNBA All-Star game that will be played prior to a stop in Bridgeport, Conn., Sept. 15, to compete in a friendly against the Canadian National Team.
It is all part of the path to enable the selection committee to provide the roster to head coach Geno Auriemma, the Hall of Fame women's mentor at the University of Connecticut, and his staff for the FIBA World Championship beginning late September in Turkey.
Delle Donne is part of the pool of candidates up for selection, as if there are any doubts of her pick, but the players in the WNBA Finals, going on at the same time, are excused during that portion of the process.
Of course, the opportunity hasn't gone away yet since Chicago must battle the Indiana Fever and retiring Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach Lin Dunn in a best-of-three final beginning Saturday night in Indianapolis and then moving onto Chicago Monday afternoon on Labor Day.
Chicago, after winning its first playoff series ever and first-ever playoff game at the outset in Atlanta, will be dealing with an Indiana delegation that has been a thorn in the side of the Sky and dispatched coach Pokey Chatman's squad 2-0 a year ago when Delle Donne led the franchise to its first playoff appearance in eight tries after its debut in the WNBA in 2006.
So with the Final Four in the WNBA decided -- the Phoenix Mercury and defending champion Minnesota Lynx will battle in the West -- the either/or players who won't be at Delaware if their respective teams get to the best-of-five league finals are:
Chicago: Delle Donne, Courtney Vandersloot, Sylvia Fowles
or Indiana: Tamika Catchings, Briann January
Phoenix: Temple's Candice Dupree, Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner
or Minnesota: Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Monica Wright.
Delle Donne made a previous homecoming appearance at the Bob Carpenter Center in May when a sellout crowd energized the arena where Chicago played a preseason game against the Washington Mystics.
Both teams enjoyed the experience and there is already talk of Chicago returning while Washington wouldn't mind doing it again next spring.
Delle Donne or no Delle Donne, there will still be a homecoming atmosphere -- a clinic by the way will be held earlier in the day -- since Auriemma grew up in Norristown and one of his assistants is the legendary Dawn Staley, who has re-built South Carolina to prominence and beyond after putting Temple on the national map with an eight-year stint from 2001-08.
Staley, of course, is the pride of Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia who went on to become one of the collegiate greats at Virginia and then became an All-Star in the WNBA and the short-lived American Basketball League and a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Staley also assisted the Connecticut Sun's Anne Donovan on the USA squad that won the gold in Beijing, China, in 2008.
Also on Auriemma's staff is Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star out of South Jersey who has guided the Lynx to three straight WNBA finals and titles in 2011 and 2013.
Of course, if Minnesota gets to the finals, Reeve will take a rain check this time around.
The other assistant coach is DePaul's Doug Bruno out of Chicago who was with Auriemma on the 2012 Gold Medalists and is practically family playing Villanova in the area in the Big East wars and now actually having Delle Donne to cheer for in his native city.
It is obvious that even if Delle Donne has a bigger immediate -- emphasize immediate -- pursuit that would preclude her from appearing this time, a large turnout would probably guarantee future USA events at Delaware or in the area during the two-year preparation for the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil.
By the way, the lone collegian on the list of candidates is Connecticut sensation Breanna Stewart, the two-time MVP of the last two NCAA Final Fours who also played in the locally-based Blue Star AAU organization.
Auriemma may have unwittingly seen Delle Donne's Tuesday performance coming because earlier in the day on a teleconference hosted by USA Basketball, in talking about the evolvement of the roster and the eventual end of participation of multi-gold winners Sue Bird, Catchings and Taurasi, Auriemma noted:
" .. I would venture to say that players like Breanna, Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner, if you try to project into the future, are three of the players who may be next in line when we talk about those who could win three or four gold medals."
The Delle Donne Saga Continues
There are occasions on press row in covering a particularly game, the way it is playing out causes one to sometimes cheer for things to happen to fulfill a wishful storyline -- the comeback, the game-winner, the great performance.
Over the years covering Delle Donne's exploits, you don't have to call in a journalism genie to grant a wish.
Delle Donne takes care of it all by herself and you just know when crunchtime occurs, in most cases, she'll make your fondest hope a reality.
No, the Guru wasn't on press row Tuesday night in Atlanta when Delle Donne did all of the above -- playoff high 34 points, 17 alone in the fourth quarter, game-winner with 8.4 seconds left.
There was also a playoffs first-ever rally to win from a 16-point deficit at the outset of the fourth quarter -- it then grew to 17 -- since the switch to quarters from halves in 2006 according to the league who got the information from the Elias Sports Bureau.
But in attempting to watch and track -- more about that in a bit -- the Guru had the innate sense of what the near future offered as the deficit was getting whittled by Chicago.
He had seen it all before. A comeback against Drexel, several by the way, to keep perfection intact in the Colonial Athletic Association wars.
Speaking of the CAA, former James Madison star Tamera Young of the Sky, had 16 points in the game.
There was the overtime win at Saint John's.
Last summer Delle Donne's coach at Delaware, Tina Martin, had discussed how much her star player's last two seasons were spent learning to be the leader.
That showed last season when she had several game winners.
It also appeared through her post-game comment Tuesday night:
''I just know that when we were in huddles and I was talking to the team, everyone had that look in their eye like we were not done yet - we were not ready to go home,'' Delle Donne said. ''So I was very confident. ... I knew we were playing pretty good defense, just not doing the little things like finishing with a rebound, finishing with a contested shot.''
This is not the first time Delle Donne had battled back from being sidelined for an extensive period because of an ongoing fight against sap-drenching Lyme disease.
After missing the bulk of her sophomore season, Delle Donne returned near the end and led the Blue Hens as an underseed to an upset of Old Dominion in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament -- the earliest the Lady Monarchs had ever been dispatched -- and another upset in the next round and to the title game before James Madison prevailed.
This time she battled back from a 17-game absence, during which some doubt existed whether the Sky, who had a slew of other injuries, might be able to return to the postseason.
Had Delle Donne been healthy all year -- in fact only recently has the Sky had the entire team healthy -- Chicago might have again been the top seed and she might have given Minnesota's Maya Moore and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi a run for the money in the MVP race.
Even at that, many of us felt compelled to list Delle Donne somewhere on our five-slot MVP ballot topped by the winning Moore because of her value and cause-and-effect of what happens when she is in the Chicago lineup.
Ironically, Delle Donne, at the age of 13 and native of Wilmington, Del., may have been the last female phenom out of the Philadelphia area before the recent celebration of little league pitching star Mo'ne Davis, who is being feted Wednesday with her Taney teammates with a parade sponsored by the city prior to a special salute at Wednesday night's Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.
The early chapters of Delle Donne's career includes a scholarship offer for basketball from North Carolina.
And just as Davis' shutout performance in the first round of the series caught the nation's attention off its telecast by ESPN2, one wonders how many more people might be talking about Delle Donne today had there been better access to the game then NBA-TV.
Understand, this is not a knock at NBA-TV, especially with a crew doing the game being top shelf and very professional considering they were Atlanta based.
But not as many people have access.
And when it comes to technology, the WNBA Live-Access apps, which has done wonders in taking you to the venue which otherwise might not be possible, does have flaws.
There are freezes and on the Guru's iPad, in part because of having LTE connections in his house -- no wifi before you ask -- suddenly reverting to 4G late in the game.
Thst was when he had that sense of another Delle Donne signature moment but when he tried to return to the broadcast, he got a "blacked out" notice on the game he had watched all night.
There was the play-by-play text to track to stay in the game but still ...
After it ended, the twitterverse quickly erupted with kudos to Delle Donne, and the winning play was viewable but the moment that provides that extra juice one feels as it happens was lost.
WNBA.com has been all over it with taped highlights through the press conferences but looking ahead to this weekend, you get NBA-TV for three of the four games before "if necessary" kicks in for potential Game 3s.
ABC-TV is doing game two Sunday of the highly anticipated Minnesota-Phoenix showdown involving the top two teams in the league all season.
This last section by the Guru is not a rant over lack of TV overall for women's sports -- the Guru is in agreement with colleague Wendy Parker on her counterpoint about coverage -- only against the inability for things to happen at a developing moment considering the sports TV giant is a partner of the league.
- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad