West Virginia-Delaware Preview
Whenever Delaware’s NCAA tournament run ends, Elena Delle Donne
will look back on her college career with no regrets.
”Honestly, I think the happy ending has already occurred,”
Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said. ”The happy ending is that Elena
After starring at Ursuline Academy in Delaware, Delle Donne
accepted a scholarship to perennial title contender Connecticut in
2008. Almost immediately after arriving at the school, the
18-year-old got homesick and left in tears.
Saying she was burned out from basketball, the 6-foot-5 Delle
Donne enrolled at Delaware and played on the volleyball team during
her freshman year. Eventually, she approached Martin and asked to
join the basketball team.
And it’s been a thrill ride ever since.
Delle Donne has become the most prolific scorer in Colonial
Athletic Association history, was voted CAA player of the year
three times and led Delaware to two straight league titles, the
last coming Sunday to extend the team’s school-record winning
streak to 25 games. The Blue Hens became a fixture in the Top 25,
and last year they recorded their first-ever NCAA tournament
She also raised the level of interest in women’s basketball
within the state to a point where the home arena is regularly sold
out and Sunday will host the opening round of the NCAA tournament
for the first time.
”It’s been great for me, and I think the state of Delaware has
had a fine ride with this also,” Delle Donne said. ”Me being a
hometown girl, staying home, really competing and getting us on the
national scene has been pretty awesome for the state. They’ve been
behind us the whole way.”
None of this would have happened if Delle Donne stayed at
”She could be playing at Connecticut right now but that’s not
where her heart is,” Blue Hens guard Lauren Carra said.
Delle Donne has the ability to drive to the basket, dominate the
lane, pop a baseline jumper or nail a 3-pointer. She might have won
a national championship or two with the Huskies, but doesn’t think
about what might have been because it could never top what
”This is the best decision of my life,” Delle Donne said.
”When I made the decision a while back and I was playing
volleyball, I never would have thought I would be here at this
time. But it’s been the most amazing ride ever. I wouldn’t change
”I’ve just enjoyed playing this game that I’ve absolutely
loved, meeting some awesome teammates that I will be friends with
for the rest of my life. I’ve built bonds with my coaches that will
last forever. It’s far more than championships for me. We’ve been
able to have our own little championships with the CAA. It’s been a
different challenge here, different than having to win the national
The first obstacle Delle Donne had to overcome was the angst
over abandoning UConn and the game of basketball.
”Elena did what society told her to: You’re the No. 1 player,
you should go to the No. 1 school,” Martin said. ”So she chose
Connecticut, But bottom line, in her heart, she did not want to
leave the state of Delaware.”
Going home wasn’t an immediate cure.
”I saw her on campus during her freshman year,” Martin
recalled. ”She was walking with her head down, her shoulders were
slumped. Talking to our volleyball coach, she told me the kid just
really needs to be left alone. She said the kid is stressed out,
she wants to enjoy college. Basketball has been such a burden for
her, with so much pressure since the eighth grade.”
Delle Donne realized she didn’t belong at Connecticut almost the
instant she got there.
”The only thing I regret is how I left Connecticut. I didn’t
meet with the girls, I didn’t meet with the coach. I just left,”
she said. ”But I was 18, was panicked and did what I thought I had
to do. Obviously, I can’t change that now. Being grown up now, I
would have done it differently. Other than that, no regrets.”
Now that Delle Donne is playing basketball again, she holds her
head high on campus – but not with the swagger befitting one of the
best female players in the land.
”Elena is a great player, obviously, but you wouldn’t think
she’s the superstar of the team if you just saw her walking
around,” teammate Trumae Lucas said. ”She definitely fits in with
the rest of us. … Connecticut has its history, but she made
Delle Donne has been able to enjoy her basketball success a mere
15 minutes from where she grew up.
”We have a family barn where Mom cooks dinner,” said Gene
Delle Donne, Elena’s older brother. ”I think that’s Elena’s
favorite place in the whole world.”
Delle Donne puts family ahead of everything. Being at UConn, a
five-hour trip from Delaware, would have been too much separation
from her family – most notably older sister Lizzie, who is deaf,
blind, and has cerebral palsy.
”No doubt, Elena is one of Lizzie’s favorite people,” said
Gene, who will be behind the Delaware bench Sunday when the
sixth-seed Blue Hens (30-3) face West Virginia (17-13) on Sunday.
Delaware is in the same bracket as top-seed Connecticut, so there’s
a chance Delle Donne could face the Huskies down the road.
”I realize that,” she said, ”but we’ve got a long, long way
to go before we get there.”
Delle Donne’s final college game will serve as a prelude to the
next phase of her career, the WNBA. She will likely be a top-five
”I can’t wait for that,” Delle Donne said. ”Obviously there’s
a little more to do here, then the next chapter starts. I think
it’s going to be pretty awesome.”
West Virginia was able to tread water in its first season in the
Big 12 – going 9-9 – and was the last of the seven teams from the
conference to reach the field of 64 despite losing its final three
games. After dealing with Brittney Griner twice this season, coach
Mike Carey knows the challenges of playing a star opponent such as
“She is shooting almost 50 percent from the 3, which definitely
makes her a threat out on the perimeter, but she also can take you
off the dribble and step back at 6-5 and that’s hard to guard with
another guard,” Carey told West Virginia’s official website. “If
you play a big girl on her she takes you outside and if you play a
guard on her she takes them inside.”
Christal Caldwell and Ayana Dunning are West Virginia’s top two
scorers at 13.2 and 10.0 points per game. The Mountaineers average
10.3 steals and force nearly 20 turnovers per game.
The winner of this game will play the winner of No. 3 seed North
Carolina and 14th-seeded Albany in the second round on Tuesday.