She’s been the Rookie of the Year. A three-time All-Star. And even the WNBA MVP.
But now, Elena Delle Donne can add United States Olympian to an already stacked basketball résumé.
The University of Delaware grad and Wilmington native was officially named to the U.S. national Olympic team on Wednesday, April 27, to compete in the 2016 Summer Games, being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“This has been, by far, the pinnacle of my career and the best news I’ve ever heard,” Delle Donne said during a USA Basketball teleconference. “It’s absolutely a dream come true. I’ve just been soaking it up today, and it’s amazing and a humbling experience as well, with how special and talented this pool of players is.”
Currently playing small forward and shooting guard for the Chicago Sky, the 26-year-old will make her debut in the red, white and blue along with Seattle Storm forward/center and 2016 No. 1 overall pick Breanna Stewart, and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner. Griner was the No. 1 overall selection in 2013, the same year that Delle Donne was selected No. 2 by the Sky.
Perhaps surprisingly, the 12-player roster did not include Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker — a two-time WNBA MVP who helped lead the U.S. team to gold medals in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games.
“The committee had a really difficult job this year, because it’s the first time in a long time that a lot more than 12 players could easily have been named to that team,” explained USA head coach Geno Auriemma during the teleconference. “But the 12 that were named are a great combination of Olympic gold-medal experience, multiple gold medal winners and great leaders.”
Returning to the team from the 2012 roster will be Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen, forwards Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, Indian Fever forward Tamika Catchings, Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles, Phoenix Mercury guard/forward Diana Taurasi, Sky center Sylvia Fowles and Baltimore native Angel McCoughtry of the Atlanta Dream.
The squad will be looking to claim a sixth gold medal for U.S. Women’s Basketball.
Shortly after the announcement, Delle Donne made her return home to Delaware when the Sky took on the New York Liberty on Sunday, May 1, at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.
The homecoming queen stole the spotlight during the 93-59 pre-season win, going 7-8 from the field and 3-3 from beyond the arch, to lead the scoring charge with a team-high 17 points on the night.
In a press conference after the game, Delle Donne commented on the continued support from fans in the First State, including the 3,432 who showed up last Sunday.
“There’s no court that feels like home more than this court,” she said. “I’ve been playing on it since eighth grade, so to be here and see so many familiar faces in the crowd — I don’t forget it.”
She also looked toward the upcoming WNBA season and how it would get her ready for Rio this summer.
“I’m ready. I’m excited about this season. It’s such a long offseason with the WNBA, so I’ve been training a ton,” she said. “There is nothing that will prep me better for the Olympics than this WNBA season, playing against the best females in the world.”
The Olympics will run from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21, with the U.S. team in “Group B” for the games, along with Canada, Senegal and the two teams that make the cut from the Olympic qualifying tournament held in France from June 13 to June 19.
Before that, the Sky will tip off the WNBA regular season against the Connecticut Sun on Saturday, May 14, with Delle Donne looking to defend her MVP title.
“This league is incredible. I’m glad I have it to prep me for the Olympics,” she said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on the Chicago Sky and continuing to get better, and then when the Olympic break comes around, I’ll get ready for that and head off to Rio.”