Video: Elena Delle Donne high school highlights
Before the WNBA, Delle Donne was a true phenom at Ursuline Academy in Delaware.
When Elena Delle Donne
started playing basketball in grade school and Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Del.)
, she had no idea where it would lead her. In fact, the Washington Mystics forward walked away from the game and an opportunity to play for UConn 10 years ago.
The Delaware native felt homesick and burned out. She left Storrs and took a year off, not sure if she would return to the game. That sabbatical most likely saved her career in basketball.
After hitting the recharge button and transferring to play volleyball at the University of Delaware, Delle Donne eventually came back to the game and joined the basketball team as a redshirt freshman.
As a junior, Delle Donne led the nation in scoring, finishing the season averaging 28.1 points per game. Her abilities on the court garnered new fans for the Blue Hens with attendance climbing 250 percent over the previous year.
The Chicago Sky made her the second overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft and she was the league's MVP just two years later. Now with the Mystics after signing prior to the 2017 season, Delle Donne has earned an invitation to four All-Star games and won Olympic gold in Brazil.
Delle Donne also recently released two books: a children's book "Elle of the Ball" and a young adult version, "My Shot: Balancing it All and Standing Tall
She's accomplished all of this while battling Lyme disease.
Delle Donne is the subject of our first installment of Play Like A Girl
, a monthly Q&A with Anya Alvarez of MaxPreps.
Anya Alvarez: When did you realize that you were good at basketball and had a future in it?
Elena Delle Donne:
I'd say I realized it when I was 10 years-old. It was the first year I started to play basketball and I was able to compete against players outside of the state of Delaware. When we went to nationals, that's when I really was able to see what everybody else's skill level at my age was, and I knew there that I definitely had a shot of being really good at basketball. AA: Did you ever feel any pressure to play basketball? EDD:
No, I was definitely self-driven and I just loved how challenging the sport was. I played other sports growing up but I just somehow always ended up back with basketball and decided to specialize in it. Looking back now though, I wish I had never done that.
AA: You wish you would have played other sports more?EDD:
Yeah. I wish I played a bunch of sports, which would have given me the opportunity to cross-train and enjoy being in different seasons with different teammates and try new things until I went to college. AA: It's interesting that you say that because a lot of kids are now specializing in one sport at a younger age. What are your thoughts on that? EDD:
I think it's definitely something that can lead to burnout in young kids. I think it's great to be able to cross-train outside of your main sport and challenge yourself athletically in different ways. It's really good to have a breath of fresh air and give yourself a mental break. AA: For young girls who may have parents who put a lot of pressure on them, what type of advice would you give them? EDD:
It's so hard because your parents are so important to you and usually they are your voice of reason. So if that is happening, I think first you need to sit down and talk to them and explain how they're making you feel. I think parents see that there's talent there or that their child has a dream and they want to help push them. But I believe the best way to deal with them is just to be honest and say 'Hey, when you're acting like that it's putting so much pressure on me, which makes it hard for me to enjoy the sport and have fun.'AA: When you enrolled at UConn, you hit a wall and said, 'I don't want to play basketball anymore.' For girls who feel drained, overworked, what would you tell them to help them hit the recharge button? EDD:
I think you've got to find a time to step away. And if you're in the middle of things and can't do it right away, finish off that season and then take your break. Taking a break looks different for everyone, and you can still technically train for your sport by working out and keeping up with your conditioning, but find something else to fill your time and that you enjoy. During my off season, I'll set the ball down for about a month and stay off the court, and even my coaches encourage that. AA: When you took a break in college from basketball, you played volleyball for a year at the University of Delaware. How important was that for your return to basketball? EDD:
Playing volleyball was really fun because I love being part of a team and competing, and it helped me fill the void of not playing basketball. By playing volleyball it helped me stay in shape, but when it came time to start playing basketball again I was ready and felt re-energized. AA: When you were deciding which college to attend, did you feel pressure to attend UConn because it was the best basketball program in the country? EDD:
When I was younger my dream was to play there but then I started to burn out. It really wasn't my dream anymore. But the second I got the offer to play for UConn, it was like, 'Of course, you're going to go there,' and everybody expected me to go there, just like all the other great players in the nation to go there.AA: So how did you make the decision to leave UConn? EDD:
I just realized I needed to step away and I had to put the opinions of others on the back burner and focus on what was good for me. But this wasn't a split-second decision and was something that I had been struggling with for a couple years. I just knew I had to leave, and it was a good thing I did. AA: For girls reading this who want to play college sports, what type of advice would you give them while choosing a school to attend?
I think it's important to sit down and make a list of what's important to you, not just athletically, but what you're looking for in a college. It can be as simple as you want to go to a school that has a really big football program. For me, what should have been on my list was that the school should have been close to home. That was definitely top priority for me that I didn't realize at the time and I truly only focused on making an athletic decision. I would just encourage them to look beyond the athletics.
AA: You've written two books that were recently released. Why did you want to write these books?EDD:
As young people, we all face challenges and obstacles, and I hope these books can help readers with anything they may be struggling with. The books cover a lot from self-esteem, sexual identity, the challenges of being a competitive athlete and just the everyday pressures we encounter. I honestly believe readers will relate to a lot of the topics discussed in the book. AA: What did you learn about yourself while writing these books? EDD:
I learned that with all the different obstacles thrown at me, I've been able to really learn from those moments and better myself by going through those moments. All those moments have made me so much stronger and so much better.About Anya Alvarez: A former professional golfer on the LPGA, Alvarez has transitioned to writing and worked for publications like ESPN, Rolling Stone, VICE, Good and Teen Vogue over the past two years. Follow her on Twitter @anya_alvarez.