Elena Delle Donne has turned into one of the greatest players in the history of women’s basketball. And that’s not hyperbole.
In 2019, the 6-foot-5 forward was awarded her second WNBA MVP award. She’s a six-time all-star, a four-time All-WNBA first team selection, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, the 2015 WNBA scoring champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist and the only woman to be a member of pro basketball’s elusive 50-40-90 club — in which a player shoots at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws in a single season. It’s been accomplished only eight times in the 70-plus year history of the NBA.
Now she has yet another accolade to add a legendary resume: WNBA champion. Delle Donne's Washington Mystics defeated the Connecticut Sun 89-78 in Game 5 of the 2019 WNBA finals. It's the franchise's first championship.
But before Delle Donne became a transcendent WNBA unicorn, she was a small-school star at Delaware, leading the Blue Hens to upsets and postseason glory.
Let’s look back on Delle Donne’s career as a Blue Hen.
UConn, then volleyball at Delaware
In high school, Delle Donne was a three-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware. Sports Illustrated compared her to Diana Taurasi and Dirk Nowitzki. The recruiting letters poured in, and she eventually committed to UConn.
“To me, that may have been the first time you saw anybody that tall be able to play like that,” Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma later told the Washington Post. “Today, you might say there’s a couple players like that out there. Back then at the time, there just wasn’t anybody like that at all.”
But Delle Donne left Storrs, Connecticut just two days after arriving. She missed her family: Her parents — who she inherited her height from — her brother Gene, and her sister Lizzie, who was born blind and deaf with autism and cerebral palsy.
So, Delle Donne transferred to the University of Delaware, just a 15-minute drive from her house. But she took a break from basketball and instead joined the volleyball team, where she was pretty awesome, too. Delle Donne helped the Blue Hens win 19 games and a CAA title. They appeared in the NCAA tournament, but fell to Oregon. In the CAA title game win over Northeastern, Delle Donne had 15 kills, two digs and three blocks. She made the conference All-Rookie team.
Return to basketball
Volleyball wouldn’t last for Delle Donne. Basketball came calling again and she couldn’t resist, joining Tina Martin’s squad at Delaware for the 2009-10 season.
As a redshirt freshman, Delle Donne averaged 26.7 points per-game, the third highest mark in all of women’s Division I college basketball that season. She scored 54 points in a loss against James Madison — the single highest scoring total by one player that season — and was voted as the CAA’s Player and Rookie of the Year.
The Blue Hens won 21 games and appeared in the WNIT, where they fell in the first round.
Health battles as a sophomore
Delle Donne missed several games her sophomore season due to a battle with Lyme Disease, which she’s had bouts with since high school and into her WNBA career.
Still, she eventually returned to the court, and the Blue Hens had a 20-win season and made the WNIT again.
Leap into stardom as a junior
Now healthy, Delle Donne led the nation in scoring with 28.1 points per-game. Attendance at Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center rose significantly, and the Blue Hens went a perfect 18-0 in CAA play, en route to a conference championship and NCAA tournament berth.
During that run, Delle Donne dropped 42 points in a win over Hofstra. She was also eighth in the nation in free throw percentage (88.9) and 17th in rebounds (10.3 per-game).
The Blue Hens won their first ever NCAA tournament game as Delle Donne scored 39 points to lead Delaware over the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. In the second round, Delaware had a six-point lead over Kansas at halftime, but fell despite Delle Donne’s effort of 34 points.
Sweet 16 Senior
Delle Done led her team in scoring in 29 of 34 games as a senior. She scored more than 30 points in eight of those games, including a 38-point performance in a win over Towson. Delle Donne averaged 26 points, 1.9 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point range and 92.1 percent from the free throw line.
Delaware went 32-4, including another undefeated run in CAA play, and made the NCAA tournament again. This time, Delle Donne led her No. 6 seeded Blue Hens to wins over West Virginia and North Carolina, putting Delaware in the Sweet 16 for the first time. Delle Donne scored 33 points in each win.
Delle Donne scored 33 points in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky too, but the Wildcats prevailed, 69-62.
In her career at Delaware, Delle Donne was a three-time All-American, a three-time CAA Player of the Year, the Honda Player of the Year in 2013, and finished her career as the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history with 3,039 points. She set 45 game, season and career records at Delaware, leaving the school as the all-time leading scorer for basketball, men or women’s.
Her WNBA career began in 2013, when the Chicago Sky drafted her No. 2 overall. Delle Donne was traded to the Mystics in 2017.