The biggest mystery of the summer continues to remain unsolved for the UConn women’s basketball team. The start of the second summer session came and went Monday, and freshman Elena Delle Donne was not in class according to a UConn official.
Delle Donne continues to take what she labeled a “long personal break’’ last month when she went home June 3 after just two days on campus. Fellow freshman and long-time friend Caroline Doty said last week that she hopes to run into Delle Donne at the Jersey Shore this week. At this point there is no telling whether Doty or any other member of the Huskies will run into Delle Donne on campus this fall.
“The only thing I knew about her coming in was she was a really good player,’’ senior Kalana Greene said. “After she got here, people told me there was a lot of pressure on her. She had some personal dilemmas with basketball, nothing against us. She just had to deal with them. I think she’s bold. I think it takes a lot of courage for someone to step away from basketball being that she was the No. 1 player since she was 12-years-old. Everyone’s on her saying, `You’re the greatest basketball player. You should do this, you should do this.’ So the pressure on her was to play basketball. It took a lot of courage for her to do it, especially coming into college.’’
Speculation has run rampant since Delle Donne, who did not return an e-mail seeking comment, left abruptly. It has been uttered that Delle Donne was displeased after being chastised by teammates for a lack of hustle during a pickup game or that she now wants to play volleyball instead of basketball or that she is simply homesick.
Neither Delle Donne, any member of her family nor any member of the UConn program has said publicly what it is that prompted her to leave. Doty told the assembled media that she believes Delle Donne will return in time for the start of the fall semester Aug. 25. Coach Geno Auriemma recently told a local television station in Philadelphia that he, too, expects her to return.
In asking Greene, she was not so optimistic.
“There’s a lot of things going around about why she left,’’ Greene said. “But if it’s what I hear, I don’t think she’s coming back. And I think if she does it’s going to be even tougher than before because she’s going to have to gain the trust from her teammates and the coaching staff. We don’t really trust people. We only trust each other. So when you do something like this, it’s going to be really hard because who knows if you might decide to leave if it gets really tough in the tournament. We don’t know. I think it’s going to be more pressure on her now if she comes back. If she comes back, we’re going to welcome her. But she just has a lot of trust to be gained.’’
The last incoming freshman to leave the program during the summer was point guard Kia Wright in 2003. She arrived on campus three days after graduating from Copiague (N.Y.) High. Her stay lasted only a couple of weeks as she found herself homesick and overwhelmed by the intensity level of the workouts.
Wright went on to have a fine career at St. John’s. Should Delle Donne follow the same path, Greene is happy that she chose this time to make her decision.
“I’m happy she did it now,’’ Greene said. “But we’re not really missing anything because we didn’t have it from the beginning. Coach is a great coach, and he’s going to find a way to win games with or without anyone who’s missing. He found a way to win games without me and Mel (Thomas) the whole entire season. And he always tells us, `Don’t ever depend on freshmen.’ That’s something that we’ve learned to do and that’s something we have to continue to do.’’
Greene was not being malicious in her comments in anyway, just completely honest. She reiterated the fact that the Huskies will support Delle Donne in the direction she eventually chooses to take.
Greene did say, however, that Delle Donne would have to apologize to the team and to the coaching staff if she returns and that she would not be pampered in any way. Delle Donne might be regarded as the nation’s top incoming freshman, but what occurred at the high school level has no merit in the minds of the Huskies. It never has and it never will.
“If you don’t want to play, don’t play,’’ Greene said. “If you want to play and be a part of this, then come. You’ve got to be committed when you come here. If we’re depending on her we need her to show us that we can trust her. If she comes back, it’s probably going to take like a year and a half for everyone to fully trust her. We’re going to be nice to her, but we’re not going to be pampering her like, `Oh, it’s OK if you don’t feel like playing today.’ There’s not going to be any of that. And Coach is the one guy you know that doesn’t pamper anyone. So it’s going to be tough. She’s going to get a lot of hell from us, but from the coaching staff she’s going to get a lot too. If she comes back. I can’t say I hope she comes back… I can’t say that. I don’t know what to expect if she does or she doesn’t. But if she comes back, it’s going to be a lot tougher than if she just stayed the whole time. A lot tougher. It’s not like I’m going to give her … She has to prove herself because it’s all about trust. We all support each other. Each link in the chain makes you stronger, and she broke away from the chain.’’