Elena Delle Donne Enjoying First Game Action With Women's National Team
Ernie Delle Donne remembers exactly when he knew his youngest daughter had a bright future in basketball. When Elena Delle Donne was 10 years old, her AAU team was invited to play in a national tournament in Orlando.
“Wait until you see the talent that exists at national AAU,” everyone told Ernie. “It’s the best of the best.”
Ernie had all the confidence in the world in his daughter, but with no frame of reference, he was simply expecting Elena to be an average player among the national crowd. Which would have been fine with him.
“So I saw Elena competing against every little 10-year-old in America – the best of the best, so to speak – and she did far more than hold her own,” recalled Ernie. “She was very, very capable in that tournament.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Boy, she’s pretty darn good.’”
Sixteen years later, Elena Delle Donne is still playing among the best of the best … and she is still pretty darn good.
Delle Donne is one of 10 players with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team taking part in this week’s European tour. While Delle Donne has won gold with USA Basketball (at the 2011 World University Games in China), this is her first time playing in games with the USA Women’s National Team.
In Sunday’s exhibition game win over Uni Girona, Delle Donne led all scorers with 21 points -- again proving she can stand out while playing among the best of the best.
Speaking from Barcelona one day after the game versus Uni Girona, Delle Donne said her first extended time with the National Team has been better than expected.
“It’s just so much fun to be able to play on a team with so many elite caliber players,” she said, “and obviously an incredible coaching staff as well. It’s just the best of the best in basketball, and there’s nothing more fun than that.”
Despite scoring 21 points, Delle Donne did admit to being a bit nervous.
“Yeah, of course, I definitely was,” she said. “It’s just a different feel when you’re playing for the (USA) National Team for the first time, so there’s definitely some jitters. But I was able to get through it and I had a really good time.”
Of course, Delle Donne has had plenty of experience playing with and against her USA Basketball teammates in the WNBA, and she’s been among the elite there as well. Delle Donne was the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013 with the Chicago Sky. After missing time with injuries in 2014, she was named MVP of the 2015 WNBA season and was a unanimous selection to the 2015 All-WNBA first team. Delle Donne led the league with 23.4 points per game (the fifth-best total in league history) and was third in rebounds per game and blocks per game.
“Elena Delle Donne is just Elena Delle Donne,” said USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma. “She's one of the most gifted players in the world.”
Delle Donne feels the same way about her coach. Coming out of high school, Delle Donne was all set to attend the University of Connecticut and play for Auriemma, but she had a last-minute change of heart. Wanting to be closer to her family -- especially her sister Lizzie who has cerebral palsy, was born blind and deaf, and whose main connection is via touch and smell -- she reconsidered. Instead of UConn, Delle Donne went to the University of Delaware, where she became the ninth player in women’s NCAA history to score more than 3,000 career points.
While it worked out fine at the time, Delle Donne is very excited to be playing for Auriemma now.
“There are so many great coaches out there but there aren’t always great teachers,” she said, “and that’s something that’s always struck me about him -- how great he is at getting his point across, and just continuing to teach. We’re all pros and we’ve heard so many different things. But he kind of explains things in a different way. And it’s been great. I feel like he’s the sun and I’m just trying to soak in all that knowledge. It’s been fun.
“I’m thrilled that I’m able to have him as my coach right now.”
The USA National Team plays its fourth and final exhibition game on the European tour Oct. 10. Delle Donne is one of 10 players on the tour, but there are 33 players overall that make up the 2014-16 USA National Team roster – so there will be tough competition to become one of the 12 players to make the roster that goes to Rio De Janeiro next summer for the 2016 Olympics.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Delle Donne said about Rio. “You just want to put your best foot forward and play the best that you can. That’s what I’m trying to do, bring that effort every day and just show that I’m a team player and can hopefully bring something special to the team.”