(Guru's Note: A print story combining CAA men and women is in the inquirer sports section area of philly.com Drexel is addressed in that story and some comments are being withheld by the Guru until team preview week.)
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON _ A year ago, mention of Elena Delle Donne, the former national girls high school basketball player of the year out of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy, was done in whispers and muted asides here at the Colonial Athletic Association's annual media day for men and women at the ESPN Zone.
A month earlier in a quick series of events there was the stunning news Delle Donne had decided not accept a scholarship from eventual 2009 NCAA champion Connecticut, that she was enrolling at nearby CAA member Delaware, and that she was giving up basketball to play volleyball.
As coaches made their way around the room, now and then there was a lot of repetitive whispers how they had gone to their respective school's volleyball match when Delaware was in town to get a look at Delle Donne "just in case."
As for Blue Hens women's basketball coach Tina Martin, she wasn't saying anything having already issued a statement that the door was open if Delle Donne had interest of returning to the pursuit of hoops.
To some extent, Martin's situation might be similar to a collector of fine art, who learns the portrait of Mona Lisa was being placed wrapped up outside the office with a directive not to open.
Since then, of course, Delle Donne left the volleyball team after her freshman season and then inched her way back to her original pursuit until early June when she announced she had regained the passion and was joining Martin's squad.
With Delle Donne no longer a taboo topic, there were plenty of words Tuesday from other schools discussing the effect of having the prized talent in the conference and Martin describing how to deal with putting her newly acquired star on display without having the entire gallery destroyed in the process.
Delle Donne was named to the preseason second five. She might have been named hgher but there was some confusion on the voting that led some people to believe newcomers weren't eligible.
Drexel's Denise Dillon, coach of the reigning CAA champions who are picked to repeat, addressed the topic of Delle Donne's return. Incidentally, her own senior Gabriela Marginean, the CAA player of the year was given the similar preseason honor for the second straight season.
"She certainly does a lot for Delaware women’s basketball and she’ll do a lot for the CAA," Dillon said of Delle Donne. "Her attraction and people wanting to see her play will help all our programs draw better crowds, and if you show them good basketball they’re going to come back for their home team and not just for the game against Delaware. They’ll come watch your program.
"It’s exciting," Dillon said. "It’s a great thing for them. I’m happy she came back to the game that she enjoys and that’s important. You talk to these kids about playing basketball and getting the most out of their college experience and I think she’s found her position."
Hofstra coach Krista Stevesky noted, "Definitely, the kid is going to have an opportunity to prove herself. I saw her play when she was in AAU. "There’s no argument that it can give us some publicity, television coverage, and it definitely can help us.
“She’s versatile. 6-5. She can play the 2,3, and 4. But you know, as a coach we just prepare for every game and we can’t just focus on one player.
"But this is going to make our league better because at the end of the day people can't recruit against you." Stevesky referred to Old Dominion's long 17-year domination of the CAA tournament that ended when Drexel eliminated the Monarchs in the semifinals on the way the title.
. "`Oh, you’re never going to win a championship." one might say. "`Oh, you’re never going to go anywhere.'"
CAA commissioner Tom Yeager observed, Obviously with that high a profile brings a lot of attention in her home state and in a region where she’s well known. If she has an impact that David Robinson had on the men’s side (when Navy was in the CAA), Elena will set a standard, But, again, a lot goes on between now and four years from now. But it will keep the juices going among the top teams.
Part II coming Thursday