When Elena Delle Donne was a kid growing up in Wilmington, she loved the Olympics. Swimming. Gymnastics. Basketball. It didn’t matter. She watched as much competition as she could and promised herself that, one day, she would be there, whether as a participant or spectator.
In late April, Delle Donne received word that her Olympic aspirations had been realized. She will be a member of a U.S. team that will try to extend its 41-game winning streak and capture its eighth gold medal in nine tries.
“By far, the biggest goal of my entire life has been to get to the Olympics,” Delle Donne says. “When I got the call, I was filled with excitement.”
Delle Donne will be on the team with three-time gold medalists Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, along with newcomers to the team like Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner. The head coach of the team is UConn’s Geno Auriemma, whom Delle Donne spurned when she left the Huskies in 2008 after just two days on campus. Auriemma, who praised Delle Donne’s versatility when commenting on the 2016 team, doesn’t seem to be nursing a grudge against the 6-foot-5 forward. Delle Donne’s ability to play many roles on the floor is one reason why she is so excited about international competition. Certainly, representing her country is a source of pride, but the opportunity to play what she calls “Euroball” is also enticing.
“Everybody can do all facets of the game,” Delle Donne says. “That’s something that I love to do.”
Because the U.S. team has so much talent, it’s unlikely Delle Donne, who played only a handful of international exhibition games as part of the process of choosing the team’s members, will be the same scoring machine she is as the leader of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. That’s just fine with her—the chance to compete with such talented teammates is what is so attractive to her.
“It’s not about individual play,” she says. “It’s about Team USA scoring more points than the other team. I will bring defense and anything I can on offense, whether it’s an extra pass or an [offensive] board. All the players on the team have high basketball IQs and are selfless.”
Delle Donne expects marching with the other American athletes during the opening ceremonies will “definitely give me the chills”, and she can’t wait to work with her teammates to become a unit capable of continuing the great American success on the Olympic court. “It’s an incredible team,” she says.
And the realization of a dream.