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.
(page 4 of 5)
Meanwhile in Newark, Delle Donne began taking classes as an early education major and made the school’s volleyball team as a walk-on.
The University of Delaware, which boasts a very good athletics program, though nowhere near the national-powerhouse levels of some larger schools, suddenly had one of the best young basketball players in the country soul-searching her way around campus.
“Was it exciting to know she was on our campus? Yeah, it was exciting,” says Tina Martin, who has coached UD’s women’s basketball team since 1996.
The two knew each other because Martin recruited high schooler Delle Donne to play basketball at UD. During the first meeting in January, one initiated by Delle Donne, the subject of basketball didn’t come up.
“I didn’t want to press the issue,” Martin says. “I wanted to get a feeling of where her mind was and where her heart was. You have to understand the circumstances with Elena. She was the No. 1 player in the country. She has been recruited to death. That was not something she needed more of, someone harping on her and bugging her to death. She needed time to sort things out for herself and find her passion for the game again. I was more than willing to give her that time.”
The two exchanged phone numbers, and throughout the remainder of UD’s season, Delle Donne would text the coach short messages like “good game” or “tough loss.”
Delle Donne attended a few home games, which led to her shooting around at the gym. In June, Delle Donne announced she’d suit up for Delaware this year.
“I didn’t really have an ah-ha moment,” Delle Donne says. “I showed up at a few UD games just to watch the team, turned on women’s basketball on TV a little bit. I started to miss it. I didn’t want to jump back into it, so I took my time.”
Perhaps most important, Delaware represented a level of comfort that Delle Donne hadn’t experienced in a long time. She was able to have a fulfilling college experience and still get home to visit her family twice a week. She could attend weekly Sunday dinners, a tradition in the Delle Donne home. She could visit Lizzie whenever she wanted.
With her head cleared and her batteries recharged, Delle Donne realized how much she missed the game. “When I picked up a basketball again, I didn’t feel burnt out at all,” she says. “I felt happy to be playing again.”
Page 5: On the Line, continues...