On Saturday night Elena Delle Donne returned once again to the site of her four Ursuline state championships and where she sparked Delaware to two Colonial Athletic Association titles and the 2013 NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. The News Journal
(Photo: SAQUAN STIMPSON/SPECIAL TO DELAWARE NEWS JOURNAL)
Fourteen years ago, Elena Delle Donne played a basketball game at the Carpenter Center for the first time. She was an Ursuline Academy eighth-grader.
She’d attended games before there as a fan. Coming to play as a DIAA state semifinalist was exciting but a tad terrifying, too.
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “It was like bright lights, big stadium. I was just like in shock.”
It was also love at first sight. There are likely few basketball courts in the country where a top-level player has such an extensive and happy history.
On Saturday night Delle Donne, now 28 and entering her sixth WNBA season, returned once again to the site of her four Ursuline state championships and where she sparked Delaware to two Colonial Athletic Association titles and the 2013 NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
A crowd of 3,323 was there to welcome Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics.
“I came because I wanted to see Elena play where she played in college,” said Hollin Horn, 9, who drove up from Virginia with her mother, Jill. “I thought it would be an experience.”
It was Delle Donne’s fifth post-collegiate homecoming game at the Carpenter Center. The first three were with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. The most recent, in July 2016, was when Delle Donne and her U.S. teammates scored an 84-62 Olympic tune-up win over France in front of a sellout crowd of 4,711. They won the gold medal several weeks later in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, beating Spain.
“They’re all great,” Delle Donne said of those games after scoring 15 points in 12 minutes as the Mystics blasted the Indiana Fever 91-56.
“This one’s really special because I feel like I’m truly in the right place. It was really exciting to share these awesome fans with my awesome teammates so it was a great night, had a lot of fun and saw some great things from our team.”
This is a big year for Delle Donne, in a much different way than 2017 was.
Last year, she helped engineer the trade to Washington so she could play basketball closer to home, wrote two recently published books and married Amanda Clifton. Their Nov. 3 nuptials were orchestrated by the Knot, a wedding service company.
“I think my life will actually get a lot more simple now that I’m in season,” Delle Donne said, “which is crazy to think … I can settle in a little bit more.”
Basketball will take center stage over the next five months, first with the WNBA season and then with the FIBA Women’s World Cup of basketball Sept. 22-30 on the Canary Islands, where it’ll be “gold or bust,” Delle Donne said.
Delle Done has had surgery on both thumbs the past two years – it was a torn ligament in her left thumb that sidelined her for several weeks late last season – but knows those are the hazards of her job, especially with the avid defense she draws.
“Championships,” Delle Donne said of what motivates her as the 2018 season approaches. “I feel I’ve accomplished a lot in my WNBA career, but I haven’t got a championship. I feel like last season we peaked at the right time and played really well and got far in the playoffs, falling to Minnesota, who won it all.
“Obviously, now we’re just trying to make that next step and moving forward, which is never easy. It’s gonna take a lot, especially this season with Emma [Meesseman] being out [the 6-4 Belgian is taking a season off after playing year-round for six years]. That hurts us. But we’ve got a great lineup. It’s the best training camp I’ve been in so far, and it seems like things are going in the right direction.”
Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne (11) takes the floor to warm up for a WNBA preseason basketball game between the Indiana Fever and the Washington Mystics on Saturday, May. 12, 2018, at the Bob Carpenter Sports Convocation Center in Newark.
Delle Donne was league rookie of the year with Chicago in 2013 and MVP in 2015. With Washington, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward averaged 19.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last season with career-best 49.4 field-goal and 95.3 free-throw percentages.
Washington won two games in the WNBA’s new single-elimination playoff format but was swept by eventual champ Minnesota in the best-of-five semifinals. The Mystics’ 2018 regular season opens May 20 against Indiana.
“It’s been awesome,” she said of playing in Washington. “Basketball-wise it’s been great, the perfect move, organizationally. I love my teammates, the coach [Mike Thibault]. He’s just the man. I feel like he teaches us so much about basketball but even more about life. Not only that, I’m closer to home.”
Thibault, whose Washington team was on the losing end of one of those Sky preseason games here, is happy to have Delle Donne in his lineup.
“It’s a great experience coming up here to do this,” he said. “It’s good for our team. There’s a good atmosphere for the game, so it’s fun to do . . . When you have a player who’s that transcendent with her skill set and her personality, it’s hard not to have a fan base that wants to get out and root for her.”
Thibault was at the Carpenter Center when Delaware beat North Carolina in the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Delle Donne’s final home college game “so you saw the passion that was here in the sellout that night,” he said. " . . . It’s fun to be a part of it."
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.
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