Elena Delle Donne is one of the most-talented basketball players in the world.
But the fact that the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter never seems to forget her tiny home state is what continues to make her one of the most-loved athletes Delaware has ever produced.
On Wednesday, the Carpenter Center hosted the U.S., French, Australian and Canadian women’s basketball teams in a pre-Olympic exhibition that was worthy of a big crowd.
Even with so many great players in the building, though, Delle Donne was still the star.
The sellout crowd of 4,700, many of them kids wearing t-shirts with her No. 11 on them, cheered their hometown hero every time she did anything on her old home court.
Clearly, Delle Donne was proud to share her first Olympic experience with Delaware. It’s not every day the First State gets to host something like that.
“This has been by far the most special night that I’ve ever played here, and there’s been a lot of special nights on this court,” Delle Donne said after scoring 10 points in the contest.
At the same time, Delle Donne also seemed proud that the fans embraced, not just her, but the entire U.S. squad.
“I mean, we have great fans, but they’re also intelligent fans,” said the former University of Delaware star. “And when they get to watch the best players in the world come in to the Bob Carpenter Center, they eat it up.
“They were getting so pumped on great offensive plays, even great defensive plays, so our fans are knowledgeable as well. They’re thrilled to see the greatest players they’ve ever seen in this building.”
“It was a great atmosphere, and I’m thrilled that we were able to come here,” agreed U.S. coach Geno Auriemma. “They’ve got some great basketball fans here and it was nice for us to be able to take part in it.”
With all that she’s accomplished in basketball, it’s easy to forget that Delle Donne is still dealing with Lyme disease. She’s had it since 2008.
Delle Donne meets with doctors every week to stay on top of the illness, which produces fatigue and flu-like symptoms.
Her perseverance in dealing with the disease is one thing Delle Donne’s fans love about her.
Being healthy right now is a big deal for her as the Rio Summer Olympic Games get ready to start.
“It just shows me not to take anything for granted,” said Delle Donne. “That’s why I try to embrace every moment I have, because I never know with the disease if I’ll have a relapse tomorrow. So, I’m just really honored to be here and excited that I’m in good health, too.”
Already a nationally-known athlete, the Olympics will be the biggest stage Delle Donne has performed on yet. It will be interesting to see if she seizes the moment.
Of course, her legion of fans back in Delaware will still love her no matter what happens.
“Seeing all those young faces out there in the crowd. … it’s very exciting to see them, see how inspiring it is,” Delle Donne said after Wednesday’s game. “And I’m sure tonight, they came into that gym and fell in love with some other players as well, who hopefully they’ll continue to follow as well and hopefully become bigger WNBA fans.”
Series start in Roxana
Some other talented international female athletes will be competing in Delaware this week.
Both the Big and Senior League softball World Series get started today at Lower Sussex Little League in Roxana. Opening ceremonies are at 1:30 p.m.
Delaware District III champion Laurel opens the Senior League Series with a 3 p.m. game today against U.S. East champion Pennsylvania.
In Big League, District III has a 5:30 p.m. matchup today with New York, which is the U.S. East champion.
Both tournaments continue through the week with the championship games slated for Sunday afternoon.
The Senior League finals are on ESPN with the Big League title game being aired nationally on ESPN-2.
Odds & ends
• The 16 runs Milton scored in its 16-4 win over Brandywine in Wednesday’s Major League baseball state finals were the second-most scored in Delaware’s Little League state championship game, which dates to 1957.
Only Seaford’s 1986 squad scored more, in a 17-5 over Piedmont, although five title-game scores are unavailable.
• Now Milton will try to become the first downstate team to reach the marquee Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Naamans (2203) and Newark National (2013) are the only Delaware teams to make it that far.
Milton begins plays in the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bristol, Conn. on Aug. 8.
• Delmar High grad Alex Ellis, a rookie free-agent tight end with the Titans, is also among the handful of local football players trying to make an NFL roster.
• The Delaware football team reports for preseason camp on Thursday with the Blue Hens slated to hit the field on Friday morning.
• Caesar Rodney High grad Duron Harmon, a veteran safety with the New England Patriots, recently told a group of youngsters about a time he was goofing around with his friends before a big game in high school. One of the Riders’ coaches pulled him aside after practice.
“’How can you tell me you want to play in college when you were just horsing around not paying attention to what your coaches are telling you, distracting your teammates and not acting like you care about the biggest game of the season tomorrow?’” Harmon recalled the coach telling him. “So I sat there. I thought, ‘How can I say I do care, I do want to go to college and I want to do all of these great things when my actions are not showing it?’
“Your actions are big, and from that moment I realized I had to take things a little more seriously than everybody else.”
Reach sports editor Andy Walter at email@example.com