Delle Donne's Arrival Has Delaware Coach Looking For Balance

Guru's Note: Because of the quantity of coverage from CAA Media Day, this is essentially Part 2 of Wednesday's earlier morning post. A print story from the A-10 women's teleconference will exist early Thursday AM when the Inquirer sports section involving non-baseball coverage posts. The Guru will be in New York Thursday morning for Big East women's media day. The Guru sends his condolences to DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno, who won't attend this year's event due to the passing of his dad earlier this week.

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON - Delaware women's coach Tina Martin has gone through a mixture of emotions since Elena Delle Donne, the former natrional high school player of the year from nearby Wilmington's Ursuline Academy, made the decision to return to the sport from the Blue Hens volleyball team and begin her collegiate career this season as a redshirt freshman.

Delle Donne had originally selected eventual 2009 NCAA champion Connecticut a year ago but quickly returned home and saying two months later in later August she had lost the passion for the sport. She enrolled at Delaware and played volleyball, which she had done her senior season at Ursuline. But the attraction for hoops didn't totally dissipate and she then gravitated back identifying the real cause for her actions as a severe case of being homesick.

Through all of that Delaware women's basketball coach Tina Martin chose not to be pro-active and let Delle Donne decide her future on her own.

But now that Delle Donne is one of her Blue Hens, Martin is walking the balance beam -- excited over the potential look for a squad that has been uncharacteristically down the last two season but has all five starters back, excited over what the new look means for the Colonial Athletic Association, but calm enough to build the chemistry needed to meet expectations and not look too far ahead of what the implications of a Delaware success story means in the future for the Blue Hens.

Martin spoke about all those things Tuesday here. The Guru is going to go to mostly straight transcript off his digital player with Martin's comments essentially being their own narrative:

Asked about the implications of Delle Donne's additions, Martin responded:

 “I think with Elena deciding to play, (the move) certainly brings attention to our program, even more importantly it brings attention to the league. And I think that helps.

“The fact that she’s from Delaware, it’s going to help our attendance, It’s going to help everyone focus on what we can do as at team. And certainly now that she’s decided to play, it’s only going to boost attendance for all the arenas, including our own, which makes it very exciting for all the players in the CAA in my opinion.

“Anytime you have someone that people are interested in and want to know more about, it’s only plus for everybody, not just that individual school, but for everybody."

Guru -- So now that the team is in practice, how does everything look?

“The biggest thing right now is chemistry for our team and everybody adjusting to their roles. Obviously, Elena can do a lot of things and she’s going to attract alot of attention. Everybody in the room knows who she is and they’ve watched her play.

“I think the bottom line right now is just for us to establish what we’re trying to do as a team. Right now, it’s too early to tell how it’s all going to turn out, but certainly, she’s going to have a big impact. She’s going to be able to get on the floor and play both the post position and guard position for us.

“We’re going to run our offenses through her and she’s going to make everybody else better and everybody else is going to make her better because we’ve got other players -- Tesia Harris, who’s our leading returning scorer, she’s a junior now and she’s had two years to learn and get better and get stronger.

"Vanessa Kabongo played this summer with the University Team in Canada. It’s going to help our point guard position when Kayla Miller (former Ursuline teammate and GW transfer) becomes eligible. She has to sit the first eight games but she’s looking good in practice as well. It's just a matter of jelling, getting the right pieces in the right places and really establishing what everybody’s role is going to be.

“That’s the big thing right now -- everybody learning how to play with Elena and Elena learning how to play with them -- understanding where people like to shoot the ball, where they should get the ball, where they can’t get the ball, so that’s the process we’re going through right now.

“It’s an adjustment period. It’s not going to happen overnight. Any team I’ve ever coached in the 23 years I’ve been coaching, it takes time to develop that chemistry. It takes time to develop those roles.

“So although everybody has high expectations, it is going to be an adjustment period, it’s going to be some ups and downs with this process and I realize it, because I’ve been doing this for a long time."

Guru: -- The preconference schedule, built before you knew you'd have Elena, might not be real tough, but the CAA. with its improvement from the past reputation of "Old Dominion and the rest" should provide enough of a test to know where your team is at that point in time, right?

“The conference has become incredible. Obviously with Drexel, Gabriela Marginean coming back, she’s certainly worthy of being drafted in the WNBA in my opinion, she’s the headliner. She’s the player of the year in the conference. And they’ve got enough players back, they’ve got the core of that championship team.
“I think they’re really going to be tough to beat. And that’s just one team.

“And then you look at James Madison who again basically has everybody back and then they’ve added a terrific freshman class who everybody knows about and knows who they are.

“And the list goes on. And then, of course, there’s always Old Dominion. (Coach) Wendy (Larry) does a terrific job -- a lot more speed, they’ve got terrific athletes, so they’re going to be a handful as well.

“I really believe there are six or seven teams in this league that could potentially challenge for a championship. It’s that good of a league this year.  “The league has grown by leaps and bounds. There was only one game last year that separated the top teams from three to nine, it’s that close. I just think it’s an incredible league, very, very competitive, everybody has terrific players, players who are going to get recognized to the next level to play professional basketball and it’s a great time to be in the CAA.

Guru -- So the preseason pick of fourth after finishing ninth, is it because of the addition of Elena or the fact that the Blue Hens are now very much a veteran group?

“At this point, it’s a combination of both . We now have a core group that are juniors. Certainly, they have to step up and play the way they’re capable of playing, and obviously Elena has to get her feet wet and get into competition.

 "I’m sure she’s going to be really, really anxious and have a lot of nervous energy those first couple of games, but once things settle down -- there’s a lot of excitment right now, a lot of expectations -- once thing settle down, if we can get everybody on the same page, we’ll be a very exciting team to watch."

Guru -- So if it all works, down the road you might be getting more TV requests, national interview requests, maybe even more so-called elite teams wanting to play you. And when you look back at the men, once Kareem decided to go to UCLA, everyone else wanted to go to play with him.

Should Elena have a great freshman year, a major bounce could also occur in getting into recruits' homes whose doors might never have been open to you otherwise. How tricky is it to dream of the future while working on the present to build the bridge to that point in time?

"At this point we’re trying to take it one game at at time, and one week at a time. Certainly, you’re not human if you don’t think about, ‘This can turn out, really, really, well.’ But I can’t allow myself, our staff or anyone else associated with our program to jump ahead.

“We just have to focus on trying to get better. Everything else will take care of itself. If we put the hard work and energy into it, and, God willing, we stay healthy, everything will take care of itself.

“There’s a lot of factors that play into being successful, that play into going playing beyond where you've been -- doing very well in your league, going to postseason.

“Again you just have to take it day by day, hope you have some luck on your side as well and that the kids will come together and play hard and get grasp what you’re trying to teach."

The curtain goes up Nov. 17 at St. Francis of Pennsylvania, coached by former Penn State star Susan Robinson Fruchtl.

          -- Mel