(Guru's Note: First, you may want to read a post done a short while ago, depending when you're reading this, listed below with the Guru's announcement on joining the tweeter generation. Now, the reason the web was invented, below is the extended version of a print interview advancing Elena Delle Donne's college basketball debut Tuesday night. Most of the first part repeats what is already posted. The extension will continue with a short headline to mark the break if you already read the print version before coming here. -- Mel)
By Mel Greenberg
Inquirer Staff Writer
NEWARK, Del. - Winter nights had once been a time of joy for Elena Delle Donne, the former basketball sensation out of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy.
The roar and heat of sellout crowds were common as she played well beyond her years, hitting basket after basket en route to winning state titles.
None of that was in her life a year ago, however, when winter returned.
The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne had given up the sport of her acclaim and enrolled at the University of Delaware near her home to play volleyball.
Tonight, the versatile Delle Donne will emerge for the delay of her long-anticipated college debut when the Blue Hens open their season at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa.
"People should be patient," cautioned Delaware coach Tina Martin "because she's still a freshman - actually two freshmen - because we have her playing both the post [on defense] and guard positions."
If everything works out, the Blue Hens are expected to return to their 20-plus win seasons of the past after what has been a two-year struggle.
In a 12-month period beginning in early June 2008, Delle Donne drew more notoriety for her actions off the court than when she was setting high school scoring records in Delaware.
The controversy peaked at the end of August a year ago with Delle Donne's stunning announcement that she was returning her scholarship from eventual NCAA champion Connecticut. In June, she bolted after one day on campus at the start of summer session.
Two months later, Delle Donne told reporters she was burned out from the years of attention. She said she couldn't give the Huskies what it took to be a champion.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has wished her well.
Indeed, the two might still work together down the road if Delle Donne lands a spot on the 2012 Olympic squad, which Auriemma will coach.
"I didn't know how I was going to feel watching women's basketball last season," Delle Donne said. "But when I was doing nothing, I began to think about coming back."
And so began a slow, measured journey back, during which she discovered it could be possible to rekindle the flame of her first love. The first step was to go inside a gym and embrace the basketball.
She said she was surprised to find out that she had not lost her touch, overall skills, and court awareness.
And so began the passion.
In June, she explained that her exit from UConn was the result of homesickness, which she misidentified. Much of her feelings stem from her close attachment to older sister Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and is deaf and blind.
Last week, she spoke of the night before her scheduled departure for Storrs, Conn.
"It was my last night to sleep in my own bed, and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm not going to be back here,' " Delle Donne said.
"That's when I really started to freak out in my head. But I didn't want to show anyone that. I didn't want my parents to get upset.
"Then I got up to UConn and I said to myself, 'This isn't happening.' "
And so she returned home in the middle of the night.
Now she is ready for her second chance in the sport. Delle Donne is eager for tonight's opening tip, when she will be in uniform for the first time since March 2008.
Delle Donne was on fire at a recent closed-door scrimmage at St. Joseph's, where she smoked the Hawks for 50 points, according to those allowed to attend under NCAA preseason rules.
"I can't wait for that first game, for a regular crowd to be there and just to be out there with my teammates wearing a regular jersey," she said.
The Extension Follows Here
One person who is a close confident beyond Delle Donne’s family is Veronica Algeo, her former coach of Fencor AAU.
“Elena texted me recently, telling me how happy she is,” Algeo said. “On a personal note, I’ve always had a lot of concern about her. But as a fan of women’s basketball, I say when you take Elena’s natural talent, the layers of work Elena has put on top of it and if she’s happy, we’re in for a real treat.”
One of Delle Donne’s best friends is former Germantown Academy star Caroline Doty, a Fencor teammate who was set to be a roommate at UConn.
“When I left Storrs that night, I left Caroline a text message: ‘You’re not going to understand this or anything, but I’m so sorry I had to do this, I had to go home.’”
Doty got off to a sensational start with the Huskies and then went down with a second knee injury just as Connecticut entered Big East play in early January.
“It was terrible,” Delle Donne said. “I felt so bad for her. I texted her right away. But she has a great attitude toward things. I knew she’d get through it.”
Delle Donne isn’t concerned about the possibility of hearing boos in the stands.
“Listen, those St. Elizabeth crowds in high school were really rough. Everyone is going to have their own perspective,” Delle Donne said.
She’ll see some familiar faces on the opposing team Tuesday night.
Kelley Doogan is a former teammate at Ursuline, while Sarah Thorn, a graduate of Pennsbury East, played with Delle Donne on Fencor AAU.
“Doogan’s the reason the game is one schedule,” said St. Francis coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, a former Penn State star and assistant coach. “It was already in place to get her a trip home next year against Delaware.
“But we’re looking forward to the game. We knowDelle Donne's reputation.”
It was noted to Delle Donne that one of her AAU associates hopes she’ll attend that person’s wedding in late March.
“I don’t know,” Delle Donne said with another smile. “I expect to be busy still playing by then.”