Though we have loved to call her our own since her standout grade school hoops career, it’s time for Delaware to share Elena Delle Donne with the folks she really belongs with: The Women’s National Basketball Association.
On Monday, April 15, the Chicago Sky announced Delle Donne as the No. 2 first-round draft pick to complement an already stacked roster. Ranked as the nation’s top senior during her 2008 (and fourth consecutive) championship season at Ursuline Academy and the state’s first All-American representative during her stellar Blue Hen career, the 6-foot-5 forward was second in the nation in scoring (26.0) and averaged 8.5 rebounds. She finished her career at Delaware with 3,039 career points, which puts her as the fifth all-time scorer in NCAA history.
“This is a phenomenal team I’m joining, mentors who will help me out along the way,” Delle Donne said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’ll learn a ton from these players. We definitely have a great team. I felt I was a good puzzle piece for this team. You don’t say where you want to go before it was happening, but Chicago was my pick and I wanted to go there really badly.”
The journey from her legendary five-year career at Ursuline – where she was dubbed the state’s Player of the Year, the Naismith and McDonald’s foundations’ National Player of the Year and various other POY awards while setting the national high school consecutive free throw record – to UD’s Sweet Sixteen playoff appearance was not without its hiccups or back-road detours.
Her two-day stint as a top recruit at NCAA powerhouse UConn made for an uncertain athletic future for the freshman, who temporarily filled the sports void as a member of the University of Delaware’s volleyball team. There, she was selected to the CAA All-Rookie Team, earned three CAA Rookie of the Week awards and led Delaware with 117 blocks and ranked second on the team with a .223 hitting percentage. Not bad, but ultimately, not enough for Delle Donne.
Volleyball ended, and in January, UD women’s basketball coach Tina Martin received a call from John Noonan, the Ursuline coach and Delle Donne’s personal coach, saying the recruit would like to meet with her. The meeting took place in Martin’s office at 8 a.m. on the day of UD’s home game against Drexel. A couple of weeks later, Delle Donne texted Martin to ask if she could come in to the Bob Carpenter Center gym and shoot. “She said she missed basketball a little, but still wasn’t sure about coming back,” Martin says.
In April 2009, just after the season ended, the 19-year-old came to Martin’s office and said she wanted to put to rest the rumors that she planned to transfer. “She told me she loved Delaware, she was happy here and she wasn’t leaving,” says the coach. A month later, Delle Donne joined the team.
Now, her accomplishments as a Blue Hen read as long and tall as her fellow recruits, but only time will tell how those milestones could potentially pale in comparison to those reached with the Chicago Sky. If you can bet on one thing, it’s this: You won’t see her kind again anytime soon, and certainly not on a return trip home.
This article used sources from the Associated Press and University of Delaware’s Women’s Basketball