Elena Delle Donne Is Wearing the USA Colors for Another Homecoming to Delaware
By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
Elena Delle Donne is triumphantly returning home for the second time this season but unlike earlier she won't be bringing her WNBA Chicago Sky teammates.
Even though the former University of Delaware All-American has been playing at the Bob Carpenter Center since she started playing basketball, Wednesday’s game against France will be unlike any other.
She will step on the floor as a distinguished member of the United States Women’s Basketball National Team.
“This will rank number one for me,” Delle Donne said during a conference call last month. “It’s going to be an incredible moment for me to wear USA across my chest and play in front of Delaware fans. This is a special homecoming and I am thrilled we get to play at the BOB.”
Two years ago a crowd of some 3,000 saw the USA play an intrasquad game at the BOB but the Wilmington native who was a national high school player of the year out of Ursuline Academy had to send regrets after leading Chicago to the WNBA finals in her sophomore season as a pro.
This is the second stop for Team USA, who edged the Select Team, 88-84, in Los Angeles Monday night. The USA Basketball Women’s National Team is hosting Australia, Canada and France in a four-team, three-stop tournament this week in Newark (Del.), Bridgeport (Ct.) and New York.
From there, the U.S. team will travel to Houston for United States Olympic Team processing and a final practice on Aug. 2, prior to traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“It’s amazing,” Delle Donne said of what it means to represent Team USA. “It feels surreal to finally be here. I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for this moment. Now that we’re here together, we’re excited and focused on gold.”
All of Delle Donne’s basketball dreams and then some have come true. Now, she’s representing her country with an opportunity to help Team USA win an unprecedented sixth consecutive gold medal.
Team USA has won 41 consecutive games in Olympic competition, dating back to 1992.
Delle Donne has enjoyed many memorable performances, celebrated numerous milestones and won big games, including NCAA Tournament and state title contests inside of the friendly confines of the Bob Carpenter Center.
This will be different.
She has played at the Blue Hens' arena in Newark, Del., as a professional as the Chicago Sky has played three preseason games there, including one this past May.
And if Vice President Joe Biden weren't involved in other business just up the road in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention there is a good chance he would be among the crowd considering the fellow Delaware graduate attended several of her collegiate games and even had the team visit his residence in Washington.
“Oh, my gosh, it would mean the world to me,” Delle Donne after being asked what would winning a gold medal mean. “USA Basketball has so much history. And now, to be going for a sixth straight gold medal. I’m really excited to be a part of that and it would be an amazing experience. I’d love to be a part of that history and to make America proud.”
Delle Donne has made Delaware proud.
In her fourth year for the Chicago Sky, Delle Donne is second in the WNBA in scoring (21.2 points per game), second in free-throw percentage (92.3), fifth in blocks per game (1.6) and ninth in rebounding (7.2) in 3-point field goal shooting percentage (41.9).
During her distinguished professional career, Delle Donne has been named the WNBA Rookie of the Year (2013), led her team to the WNBA Finals (2014) and captured league MVP honors (2015).
While this is her first Olympic experience, Delle Donne has been in the Team USA pool since 2013.
She competed in her first games as a member of the USA National Team during its 2015 European Tour. She started three of four games and averaged a team second-best 13.8 points in helping the USA to a 4-0 record.
She was also a member of the 2011 USA World University Games Team that finished with a 6-0 record and claimed gold in Shenzhen, China. She led the team in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (8.5).
Delle Donne, whose versatility is a key ingredient in Team USA’s dominant recipe, has been learning plenty from several veterans. Delle Donne along with Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart are first-time Olympians for Team USA.
And she is playing for the coach she spurned out of high school when she gave up a chance to play for UConn's storied powerhouse under Geno Auriemma after spending two days on campus suffering a severe bout of homesickness.
For his part the hall of fame coach is thrilled to see Delle Donne live to enjoy her promise of greatness he saw long ago when he was recruiting her.
Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown, will be having one of his many homecomings this trip along with two of his assistants in South Carolina coach and fabled Philly legend Dawn Staley and three-time WNBA championship coach Cheryl Reeve out of Washington Township in South Jersey who starred at La Salle University.
But Delle Donne is still the top attraction on this stop as she is also likely to play somewhat more minutes than she does on her WNBA homecoming trips.
“This is a huge and brand new experience for me,” Delle Donne said. “So I’m glad we have so many veterans who can help the newbies, like me, along the way. But I’m ready; I’m definitely prepared and ready to get everything underway.
"And it’s not just one of the vets; all of them have been incredibly helpful. All of them at different times have been great about illustrating what the culture is like with this team, what we need to bring every day in terms of effort. All of the veterans have played a big part in that.”
And several of her teammates who sport UConn alumna memberships are among women's basketball all-timers in Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, and WNBA rookie sensation Stewart.
Their combine homecoming of sorts will come Friday in the game in Bridgeport, Conn., some 90 minutes south of the Storrs campus.
Delle Donne looked sharp in Team USA’s hard-fought victory over the Select Team, a group of talented WNBA youngsters led by Natasha Howard, Odyssey Sims and Jewell Loyd, on Monday night in Los Angeles. She scored 11 points to share team-high scoring honors with Maya Moore.
“The Select Team is solid,” Delle Donne said. “They definitely gave us a run for our money. It was a great wakeup call, but also, we are not trying to peak right now.
"We’ve had two days together; we have a lot to work on. Still happy with the outcome and I feel like we are going to just keep going up from here.”
Of course one of the biggest concerns has been the Zika virus. Delle Donne, like everyone who goes to the Olympics, will be aware of Zika, but she isn’t afraid of the mosquito-borne illness threat.
Some athletes have already declined to participate in the Olympics because of safety fears of possibly being exposed to the Zika virus.
USA Basketball plans to house its men and women on an ocean liner as it did in Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Summer Games.
“My mind hasn’t wavered about Olympics,” Delle Donne said. “It’s been a dream come true to represent my country and I will be there.
"We know Zika is a big deal, but I feel like USA Basketball has been open and honest as well as sending us information to prepare us. I am for sure going to be there. Playing with this group of superstars, it is so much fun to just watch and see how everyone’s game gets elevated. Without a doubt, that is the most exciting part of this experience.”