Olympian Delle Donne shines for home crowd as US tops France

“It was by far the most emotional game I’ve ever played at ‘The Bob,’” Elena Delle Donne said after netting 10 points in Wednesday's pre-Olympic exhibition win over France. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

“It was by far the most emotional game I’ve ever played at ‘The Bob,’” Elena Delle Donne said after netting 10 points in Wednesday’s pre-Olympic exhibition win over France. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — The Carpenter Center has always served as the background for the highlights of Elena Delle Donne’s career.

It’s where the basketball phenom won state titles with Ursuline in high school and then NCAA Tournament games with Delaware in college.

So, now that she’s made the U.S. national women’s basketball team for the first time, it seems only fitting there should be an Olympic moment in her Carpenter Center scrapbook, too.

Coming back home with some of the top women’s players of this era, Delaware’s fans didn’t disappoint Delle Donne, as a capacity Carpenter Center crowd of 4,711 came out to see the U.S. pull away to an 84-62 win over France in a pre-Olympic exhibition contest on Wednesday night.

“It was by far the most emotional game I’ve ever played at ‘The Bob,’” Delle Donne said after netting 10 points.

“To see faces here that have been watching me since eighth grade and have gone along this entire journey with me, and now I’m wearing a ‘USA’ jersey — which has been my dream my entire life, and really the pinnacle of my career — it was so special to share that with them.”

Even the veteran U.S. players seemed to relish the opportunity to play in front of an appreciative crowd like Wednesday’s.

Diana Taurasi, 34, has already helped the U.S. win three Olympic gold medals. But she said, a lot of the times, the U.S. plays its exhibition games in other countries.

“We never play in America,” said Taurasi. “Actually to have a couple ‘USA’ chants where it’s the whole crowd, that felt really good. I haven’t had that a lot in my 14 years with the national team.”

Veteran Delaware women’s basketball coach Tina Martin certainly could appreciate what it meant to have players like Maya Moore (13 points), Sue Bird, Tina Charles (17 points) and Brittney Griner playing in the Carpenter Center.

Martin had her Blue Hen players outside the U.S. locker room, introducing them to some of the players.

“It’s incredible,” said Martin. “It’s an amazing experience for her (Delle Donne), it’s the pinnacle of her career, as she said. Wearing ‘USA’ across her chest, nothing tops that.

“I’m just so proud of her, the whole state’s proud of her. To have the USA team here is a dream come true for everybody. It’s really cool to see the greatest players in the world on our home floor.”

With so many great players, the U.S. clearly doesn’t need Delle Donne to be a huge scorer for this squad.

Her 10 points came in just under 18 minutes of playing time. She took only eight shots, making four of them, as five U.S. players netted nine points or more.

At 26, Delle Donne isn’t a kid anymore. She’s been in the WNBA for four seasons and won the league MVP Award last year.

But U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said Delle Donne and the other two first-time Olympians on this year’s team still have a lot to learn about playing at this level.

“There’s WNBA basketball and there’s Olympic basketball,” said the Connecticut coach. “That’s two separate things and they’re starting to find that out — and they’re starting to pick it up, a little at a time.”

On the other hand, nobody would be surprised if the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne eventually has some big moments in the Olympics — like she has everywhere else in her career.

“You look at players like Elena, you see what they bring to the table and you know that the U.S. is going to be in good hands,” said Bird. “Elena brings a lot of versatility, a lot of poise. She plays with a lot of poise and obviously has an amazing ability to score.”

The fact that Delle Donne gets to share all these amazing things in her career with the people of her home state isn’t lost on the Wilmington native.

Wednesday night’s Olympic moment was just another one to remember.

“This is a dream come true for me — and for a lot of Delaware fans, as well, to see a Delawarean headed to the Olympics and competing for a gold medal,” said Delle Donne. “I’m not just there to represent myself or just the team. I’m trying to make this dream come true for everyone.”

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