Delle Donne makes huge impact for Delaware

It’s not hard to see the impact Elena Delle Donne has already

had on Delaware basketball.

Just look at the record attendance, the young girls screaming

her name while clamoring for autographs, and the national attention

the school has received ever since she decided to play basketball

again last spring.

She’s already broken 10 school records and most likely will have

rewritten them all by the time she’s finished playing. But more

important to the 20-year-old than any numbers or stats is the fact

that she is excited about playing basketball again.

“It’s been an amazing year and I’m trying to take it all in and

enjoy the moment,” a beaming Delle Donne said after putting up 27

points, 10 rebounds, and seven blocks in a win over Hofstra on

Wednesday night. “I really enjoy being at Delaware, it’s the best

choice I’ve made in my life. I’m really trying to soak it all in

and enjoy the moment. I didn’t enjoy the moment enough

before.”

Delle Donne is poised to become the first freshman ever to lead

the nation in scoring. The 6-foot-5 guard, who is averaging 26.9

points, set an NCAA record for freshmen when she had 54 in an

overtime loss to James Madison on Feb. 18. That was also the

highest scoring performance in a game since Jackie Stiles had 56

for Southwest Missouri State in 2000.

“She is so special and unique,” Delaware coach Tina Martin

said. “When you look at the whole package, bringing fans out,

which we’ve never seen before. This whole state has embraced

her.”

The Blue Hens have shattered the previous home attendance record

because of Delle Donne, who grew up 20 minutes from the campus.

Delaware has had good teams before, making the NCAA tournament in

2001 and 2007. But they’ve never had a local superstar like Delle

Donne.

Delaware is averaging nearly 2,900 fans with seven of the 11

best single-game attendance marks in school history coming this

season. In comparison, the Blue Hens drew an average of 1,000

people last season.

“The Delle Donne effect has been incredible,” said athletic

director Bernard Muir. “The attention she’s garnered by being a

homegrown student-athlete is a nice perfect storm from an

administrative standpoint in the marketing and ticketing area. It’s

clear Elena is a program changer and we’ve tried to ride that wave

of momentum.”

On the court she’s helped Delaware (19-10) to a fifth-place

finish in the Colonial Athletic Association. Despite their seven

CAA losses, the Blue Hens weren’t that far from winning the

regular-season title. Six of the defeats came in overtime or by two

points or less. The only other loss in the conference was by 11 to

Towson last Saturday, but Delle Donne didn’t play in that game

because of an ankle she sprained stepping in a pothole.

“She definitely is the player of the year in the league,”

Martin said. “She took us from seven wins last season to 11 this

year.”

If Delle Donne is selected as the CAA’s player of the year, she

would be the first rookie to win the award in the conference since

1999.

For Delle Donne to get her first taste of the NCAA tournament,

the Blue Hens will have to win the conference tournament next

weekend.

“We’re going to be a scary team to come against in the CAA,”

Delle Donne said. “We haven’t come up with a win some of the time,

but we’re right there with everyone so we have a chance.”

Not many freshmen would be able to back up that statement. But

Delle Donne has never been the typical freshman at Delaware ever

since deciding to leave Connecticut after the summer of 2008 when

she was home sick. She is extremely close with older sister,

Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy. It was difficult

to be apart from her for any long period of time.

Even though Delle Donne decided to not attend UConn, she still

has followers up there.

“We became fans of her in high school when she first decided to

go to UConn,” said Danny Karwoski, who drove four hours from

Stamford, Conn., with his son to see Delle Donne play at home

against Hofstra. “She’s Elena. She was so much fun to watch in

high school. Though she decided not to go to UConn, we liked the

way she plays.”

Karwoski is a lifelong Connecticut fan who is recognizable by

his blue and white wig that has mini basketballs attached to it. He

rarely misses a Huskies game, and understands how some UConn fans

are still upset with her decision to leave.

“We do hear from other UConn fans how she wasted their time,

but we don’t see it that way,” he said. “Anybody that can put

family before a sport, especially if you’re that good, is OK. We

completely supported her decision to come to Delaware; after

knowing her family situation how could you not.”

Karwoski has seen Delle Donne play three times this season and

befriended her family. Karwoski and his son sat with Delle Donne’s

mother at the Hofstra game.

“They are great people,” Delle Donne said of the Karwoskis.

“He even came to my volleyball games last year. That’s a fan for

you, supportive of what you’re doing. … Some of those UConn fans

think I’m a UConn player and they support me and it’s incredible to

know I’m part of that family a little bit.”