On the Line
Juggernaut Elena Delle Donne rocketed to the heights of college athletics, then dropped off the map. Now she’s back—happy, fired up, and ready to change the game.
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At Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delle Donne became known as the female LeBron James—a 6-foot-5 superstar who was nationally recognized as playing in a league of her own. With Delle Donne as its centerpiece, Ursuline won three straight state championships. She averaged just under 30 points per game and set a national record by hitting 80 straight free throws during her sophomore year. By the time she was a senior, Delle Donne was the country’s top recruit.
A nine-minute clip of her high school highlights on YouTube has totaled more than 45,000 hits. The video shows Delle Donne at her most dominant—executing circus-style lay-ups, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots and draining three-pointers. It’s the kind of amazing skill and versatility that made The New York Times proclaim, “She’s 6-5 and 17, with the potential to alter the game.”
The top women’s college basketball programs in the country courted Delle Donne relentlessly. After her final year at Ursuline, Delle Donne committed to powerhouse UConn.
“I think the expectations were almost surreal from the minute she stepped onto the court,” says Mechelle Voepel, who covers women’s basketball for ESPN.com. “The fact that she was going to one of the two most visible college teams in the country only increased expectations.”
That’s when Delle Donne’s inalienable path to hoops greatness took an abrupt detour. She lasted only two days in Storrs, Connecticut, home of the Huskies. Those who followed Delle Donne’s career were astonished when she negated her scholarship and announced that she was burned out from basketball.
“I have a lot of personal issues to fix,” she said at the time. “Only my family understands what’s going on. Right now I am going to take a long personal break.”
That year she told ESPN cameras for the program “Outside the Lines,” “I was trying to force happiness upon myself, which I couldn’t find. I faked it really well, because I didn’t want other people to know.”
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