Delle Donne Dream Realized With USA Women's Basketball National Team Appointment
Eight years later, Geno Auriemma will finally get an opportunity to coach Elena Delle Donne.
The Wilmington, Delaware native was one of 12 athletes publicly named to the 2016 USA Women’s Basketball National Team Wednesday morning with the announcement and player appearances occurring on the Today show in New York City.
The team was selected by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee and is pending approval by the USOC.
The five-time defending Olympic gold medalists was announced in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC's TODAY show during the United States Olympic Committee's 100 Day Countdown celebration.
NBC has the TV rights to the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
This year’s squad that will compete for the gold medal in features nine returning Olympic gold medalists.
Delle Donne is one of three players named to the USA Women’s Basketball National Team that will be making their Olympics debut. The University of Delaware former all-American, who has been sidelined with Lyme disease at different points in her career, cherishes the opportunity she has to represent her country.
“It’s so hard to even put it into words,” Delle Donne said. “When Carol (Callan) told me, it was emotional.
Just to think this entire basketball journey I’ve been on has been absolutely incredible, but this has been by far the pinnacle of my career and the best news I’ve ever heard.
It’s absolutely a dream come true. I’ve just been soaking it up today and it’s amazing and a humbling experience as well, with how special and talented this pool of players is.”
Of course, everybody knows by now that Delle Donne out of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy committed to Connecticut, left the school after 48 hours, took a year off from the sport before returning to lead Delaware to two of its most successful seasons in program history.
Auriemma is happy to have Delle Donne as a member of the USA Team.
“She’s one of the most talented players in the world,” Auriemma said during Tuesday’s conference call with reporters. “I am not quite sure how that translates into international competition because she hasn’t had a lot of that. She can play multiple positions.
"This is a great opportunity for her. She may not have much International experience, but Elena is a quick learner. It hasn’t taken herself long to establish herself in the league. She’s not limited to one thing and she can help this team in numerous ways. I am looking forward to coaching her.
“I am not surprised by her success in the WNBA. Now I am looking forward to seeing her have some similar success on the world stage and take it to the next level. I am anxious to see that.”
Delle Donne, who will return with the Sky Sunday for the third straight year for a WNBA preseason game 2 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center, playing the New York Liberty, was the No. 2 overall pick in the much-hyped 2013 WNBA Draft.
She has unleashed her fury and beauty on the league by accomplishing something special each year in the league. Delle Donne was named the Rookie of the Year. The following year she led the Chicago Sky to an appearance in the WNBA Finals and was named MVP last season after leading the league in scoring with a 23.4 point per game average.
“It’s crazy to think that there was a time that I put the basketball down and thought I would never play again,” Delle Donne said. “And now to get here, it’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t trade any part of that journey, I feel like it really makes this moment that much even more special.”
Auriemma spoke with Delle Donne and outlined a few responsibilities for her as she begins her fourth season in the WNBA.
“We talked about what this summer needs to be and what her role needs to be,” Auriemma said. “She’s not just playing as a member of the Sky, but as a member of the USA National Team.
"That carries a certain amount of expectation to it. I feel like I know her and what makes her tick and can get to her in a way that she understands. I am sure she’ll be nervous, anxious and all of those things. Our relationship is great and I would expect it to get even better.”
The team, once again loaded with former UConn superstars as was the situation in London in 2012, is headlined by three-time gold medalists and tri-captains Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury).
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team also includes two-time Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) and Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx); and 2012 Olympic gold medalists Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx).
In addition to Delle Donne, competing in their first Olympic Games are Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) and Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut), who recently led the Huskies to their fourth straight NCAA title and 11th overall.
Not making the team in a surprise is former Tennessee great Candace Parker of the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks, though she could still land on the roster as a replacement for any player injured and unable to compete.
That happened to Delle Donne, who missed the 2014 FIBA World Championship won by the Americans due to a back condition and ongoing issues with Lyme Disease.
“I think I bring versatility, so I’m able to play different positions and help with whatever team we face,” Delle Donne said. “I can kind of move around and play whatever position is needed.
"More than anything, I want to be a great teammate. I think that’s what Team USA is all about, unselfish, high IQ basketball players who put the team in front of everything.”
Also not making the squad is Temple grad Candice Dupree of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, who was in the final pool of 25 candidates.
The 2016 Olympic Games will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro.
A total of 12 nations will compete in the Olympic women’s basketball competition.
In addition to host Brazil and the USA, which earned its berth by virtue of winning gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, the gold-medal winning teams from each of FIBA’s five zones have qualified for Rio, including Australia (FIBA Oceania), Canada (FIBA Americas), Japan (FIBA Asia), Senegal (FIBA Africa) and Serbia (FIBA Europe).
The U.S. will open play against Senegal on either Aug. 6 or Aug. 7 (all game times to be announced by FIBA at a later date), followed by the No. 4 team from the Olympic qualifier on Aug. 8, Serbia on Aug. 10, Canada Aug. 12, and the USA concludes preliminary round play on Aug. 14 against the No. 2 team from the Olympic qualifier.
All 12 of the U.S. players began competing for USA Basketball while still in high school or college, and in addition to their Olympic experience, Bird is a four-time USA World Championship Team member and three-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist; Catchings, Charles, McCoughtry, Moore, Taurasi and Whalen have captured two World Championship gold medals; Fowles earned gold at the 2010 Worlds; and Augustus, Griner and Stewart earned a gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
Additionally, Augustus, Bird, Catchings and Taurasi returned with a bronze medal from the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Auriemma will be assisted through the 2016 Olympic Games by DePaul University's Doug Bruno, the Minnesota Lynx' Cheryl Reeve and University of South Carolina's Dawn Staley.
All but Bruno have Philadelphia roots with Auriemma growing up in Norristown northwest of the city, Reeve, a former La Salle star out of Washington Township in South Jersey across the Delaware River and Staley, a former USA playing great, WNBA all-star and Virginia all-American who starred at Dobbins Tech a few blocks from her North Philadelphia home and whose first coaching job was a Tenple.
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team was selected by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee. Chaired by Callan, the committee includes: WNBA appointees Reneé Brown, WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations; Dan Hughes, head coach and general manager of the San Antonio Stars; and Chris Sienko, vice president and general manager of the Connecticut Sun; and three-time Olympic and two-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist Katie Smith, who played in nearly 200 games for USA Basketball from 1993-2008 and serves as the athlete representative.