Elena Delle Donne was all smiles and sporting a fine tan during her meeting with the media this afternoon. She expressed being burnt out by the game of basketball and great pleasure with her decision to play volleyball at Delaware. Here are a few of the high points from the event that lasted about 30 minutes.
Elena came to UConn June 1 dreaming of winning four national championships. But her father, Ernie, said she left in the middle of the night Monday, June 2. A friend had come from Delaware to pick her up and bring her home. Ernie said he was shocked when Elena walked in the house at about 7:15 a.m. June 3.
“It was shocking because at first you might think it’s a stage,’’ Ernie said. “Bu then when she tells you, `I don’t want to play basketball any more’ the first thing you say is, `well, what would you like to do?’ And she had thought it out. She’s a very smart young lady and has a great head on her shoulders. What made us feel somewhat better is she explained us, `You all never burnt me out. I was driven to be as good as I could be.’ Ever since Elena was 8-, 9-, 10-years-old she set up her work out schedule, her own regimen. And she was driven to be as good as she could be.’’
Elena said she has been feeling burnt out since she was 15 or 16. She said she saw the workouts at UConn and knew right away that she would not be able to drum up the effort to mirror that of her teammates.
“In the back of my head there were always questions, but when I went there I went there with the full intention of playing,’’ Elena said. “And then once I got there I realized I wouldn’t be able to give them a 100 percent commitment. I just saw workouts and I saw what we were going to have to put forth every day and I knew I couldn’t give that.’’
Elena and Delaware volleyball coach Bonnie Kenny repeatedly heaved heavy compliments toward Geno and the players.
“I think it showed a lot of class with how they handled this in granting Elena the release to do something that she wants to do,’’ Kenny said. “And the entire UConn family has, obviously, handled this as professional and as well as they can and obviously we’re the beneficiary of Elena making this decision. I applaud her for being mature enough, brave enough to come to the conclusion that this is where she wants to be and this is what she wants to do. Obviously, everybody in the world thought she was going to play basketball. But how fortunate we are where she is now. We are extremely aware that we have an elite student-athlete in our gym. She’s immediately made our program better. We’ve embraced her. She’s embraced us.’’
Elena would not say that she would never play basketball again.
“If I was going to play basketball, I would be at UConn,” Elena said. “To avoid continuous questions about basketball, it would be ridiculous for me to say never. I am 18-years-old so never would be an eternity. Basketball is not part of my life right now. I am at ease with my decision to be at the University of Delaware. It’s incredible. I’ve been all smiles since I’ve been here and I hope it continues that way.’’
Elena is a non-scholarship athlete at Delaware and will major in early childhood education. She competed in her first volleyball practice last Friday.
Geno, his wife Kathy and Ernie and Joanie Delle Donne had dinner several times this summer at the Jersey Shore to discuss the situation. Geno and Elena met a few days after watching the the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing at his beach house Aug. 8. It was then when she told him that her heart was not in it any longer.
Ernie said the honest comments made by Kalana Greene this summer had absolutely no bearing on Elena’s final decision. In fact, she didn’t even see them. He also said that he would have actually said things that were much worse if he were Kalana.
“Somebody made mention of Kalana Greene’s comments,’’ Ernie said. “Elena wasn’t even aware of them. She doesn’t read that junk. And my comment to Kalana’s comments was I would have said 50 times worse. I’m in an incoming senior. I have a blown out knee and people are asking me about this incoming freshman who’s not even here? I would have been so annoyed I would have snapped at the reporter. And Kalana was such a sweetheart when we got there. She was looking after Elena like a little sister. They are terrific and I hope they won the national championship. I hate to root against the University of Delaware, but I want UConn to win championship after championship after championship more so now then ever.’’
It was an interesting day in Newark.