By Mel Greenberg
To understand what Delaware women's basketball coach Tina Martin has gone through in her own mind in thetwo-plus days following the right ankle sprain injury to redshirt freshman sensation Elena Delle Donne Friday night in Colorado in the closing minutes of a win over Houston one must look beyond the sport for an appropriate analogy.
But first, to get the immediate news out of the way, the former star of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy and 2008 national high school player of the year is already on the mend and could return to action as early this weekend when Delaware visits Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday, according to Martin.
At worst, if caution is still required to not rush things, the 6-5 versatile Delle Donne could be back in uniform during next week's visit to Maine before the long-awaited home opener on Dec. 11 when Delaware hosts Navy.
With that reported, let's get back to this narrative by speaking of the Delaware women's program in terms of the development of a flying machine that can leave the runway and head into outer space.
For years there had been dreams of producing an enhanced Blue Hens craft that would allow a new level of flight to be achieved.
Suddenly, those dreams begin to transform into reality when a special component comes along that would provide a major boost to reach vistas well beyond the achievements of the past.
But before this craft can reach and maintain sustained altitudes, the other parts must be connected and shakedown flights need to be run to test the best possible combinations to make the Blue Hens flight endure.
The early attempts have some magical moments but takeoffs are still a little rough and more fine tuning is required.
Then one night ground control is cheered by a flight that has the smoothest departure to date and all systems are definitely go. The fuel supply is plentiful. The wings respond to every command.
Knowing the next trip might be a bit more challenging, the flight is kept in the air just a bit longer.
Then just as the order is given to protect the main component, return to earth and head for the hanger, Bang!, the prized component is nicked by an uncharted piece of tumbling space junk requiring some repairs.
The next test can't be cancelled but without the special component getting off the ground becomes a hardship resulting in failure.
Although repairs will be done quickly, the pain of self-evaluation begins. Should the previous flight been shortened with all special actions having passed with flying colors? But then, how short is short when one needs to learn how long can everything be sustained?
OK, hopefully if that comparison is understandable, let's remember it's context and return to the Delaware women's team and it's architect in coach Martin.
Since practice began and Delle Donne joined the squad, Martin has patiently began building a unit that also has four other new freshmen. Another adjustment will come after finals when transfer Kayla Miller, another former Ursuline star, becomes eligible.
During the runup to the season opener several weeks ago, there had been two main themes, the establishment of team chemistry among a group with all five returning starters and the need to play defense. There also have been some mixing of combinations on the offensive end.
And so came Friday night against Houston in the Coors Rocky Mountain Tournament when the promise of the future began to unfold.
"Everything was unbelievable from the moment before we left on the trip and into the game," Martin said Sunday night after the team returned to Newark.
"First, the chemistry on this team is fabulous. They've embraced Elena, she's embraced them. There's nothing she won't do for the team," she continued.
"We had a Thanksgiving dinner and voted in three different categories. Elena had to dance. She was funny. I had to get up and sing. I can't sing for anything but I did.
"And then the game came and we were really clicking," Martin said. "I had made some adjustments. We had two n ew people in the starting lineup and it was great."
Then the horror came.
"It was near the end of the game. We were in a timeout and I told my coaches we need to get Elena out of there and we sent a substitute to the table."
The Blue Hens (2-2) had a 27-point lead with 3:26 to play.
"We weren't trying to run up the score. The Houston coach (Joe Curl) was great. He didn't have a problem and all he wanted to talk about was our welfare."
Things went astray when Houston missed the second foul shot. Delaware got the ball and in coming down the court Delle Donne tried to save a bad pass.
"That's how competitive she is. She could have let it go. But she went for it and came down awkwardly and then hurt her right ankle, which she's never injured before. She's had sprains on the other ankle in pickup games.
"She got scared at first, but after a while when the swelling went down she was jokiing and insisting she would play Saturday night, when she couldn't.
"I take full responsibility, but then you have to be philosophical. It could have happened earlier. You can't take her out too early when it was still a contest," Martin said.
"The good news is it could have been worse. She's already in a walking boot. She'll miss the Columbia game in New York Wednesday night. But she could be back by Saturday when we play at UMBC. If we still need to be cautious, then it will be next week."
Meanwhile, the Blue Hens went out the next night and fell behind 35-10 to host Colorado State in the first half beforeplaying even the final 20 minutes.
"I think they were missing Elena after what we have been doing, but we'll be alright. The whole idea now is to keep working and make sure we're at our best when conference opens."
When it does, Delaware will meet the former longtime Colonial Athletic Association rulers Old Dominion Jan. 3 at the Bob Carpenter center in Newark.
Hofstra's Lost Weekend at UConn
It's now crime to be run out of the building as Hofstra was in Connecticut's tournament by the No. 1 Huskies on Friday night. It's another to lose the next two games by one point, each, to Clemson and Richmond.
"There are no moral victories," Pride coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky said after Sunday's setback to Richmond. "I don't know which of the last two losses were worse."