Elena Delle Donne found a better place to grow up


Recent circumstances, whether through fate or coincidence, awakened the echoes of a saga that, five-years-old now, had begun a long fade into becoming a duller ache.

Here, nonetheless, is the two-minute drill version of L'Affaire de Delle Donne: She spurned the royal family of women's basketball, had her motives questioned by dime-store psychologists everywhere, went home to Delaware, thrived, and has become, in coach Tina Martin's words, "the most important person in our state right now, besides Vice President Biden."

Elena Delle Donne has come back to Connecticut this week, home of the state university at which she spent a few days five years ago before the most noted disappearance since Hoffa. She was guilty, really, of merely changing her mind. But when hype follows you like Linus' blanket and you are a 6-foot-5 whiz kid with the forward's body and guard's skills, you cannot slip out the back door and fade into the night.

A more cynical fellow might roll his eyes at how the Delle Donne story has fallen into lockstep precision with all the other women's basketball stories: lovey dovey, all's well that ends well. This is women's basketball. Everyone's got to be friends and text each other or the sour undercurrent creates dizzying levels of hand-wringing.

But Elena Delle Donne was a kid when she left here. She was 18. She didn't burn down a church. She didn't go to Geno Auriemma's house, pop a few wheelies on the front lawn, shoot out the windows and kick the gardener in the groin.

She's in a better, happier place now. And good for her.

Because thinking otherwise would be to deny a kid the point of college.

"The object of college is to find out a little bit about who you are and see what you can become," Auriemma said Friday at Webster Bank Arena, site of the weekend's regional semifinals. "If that happens, it's a good four years, or five in (Delle Donne's) case. Whether at Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky or Maryland, it doesn't matter. When kids go to college and it turns out right and they grow up a lot, that's the whole point."

Indeed. The story's development has become more important than past truths. Or lies. Or whatever fell between. The point is that Delle Donne overcame something in her life. Are the specifics honestly that important?

What befell Delle Donne in the wake of her departure from Connecticut was an embarrassment. A program alum was quoted as calling her "whacked" in one state newspaper. So much public discourse, one word dumber than the next and all that rested between was the life of an 18-year-old kid.

Delle Donne found her salvation in Delaware. Where she grew up. Where she has become the de facto first lady, bigger perhaps than Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, who might be the Delaware women's No. 1 fan.

Martin said she thinks Delle Donne is bigger in Delaware than Joe Flacco, quarterback of the Ravens, the highest paid man in football, a Delaware graduate. Martin gave Delle Donne the nod because she's a "Delawarean" and Flacco hails from New Jersey.

It is impossible to say whether Delle Donne's impact on women's basketball has been greater in Delaware than it would have been at Connecticut. Had she stayed, she'd have been the marquee player on the game's Broadway. An attractive blond, too, which in the past hasn't exactly killed ticket sales in our state.

And yet she turned Delaware's decent program into a must watch for a state with sporting ties to the Philadelphia television market. This is how the game grows. One program at a time.

Delle Donne has become the nation's most fascinating story. There's still an air of mystery around her. Makes for better theater. She has taken 216 more shots than the next-closest teammate. She has committed 41 fouls in 29 games. Think about those numbers. They may become more relevant today, should the Blue Hens beat Kentucky and establish a possible Elite Eight date with Elena's old team.

Meanwhile, no telethons have been necessary for the Huskies. Since Delle Donne left, they won 90 in a row and two national championships. Delle Donne's choice to attend Delaware, hers and nobody else's, worked beautifully.

"Would I have liked her to have given it a chance? Sure," associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "We've moved on. She's had a great college career. We've always dealt with who we have. She hasn't been here for a long time."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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