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Elena Delle Donne

Birthplace: Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware, United States
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Managed by: Alex Bickle
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About Elena Delle Donne

Elena Delle Donne (/ᵻˈleɪnə ˌdɛli ˈdɒn/; born September 5, 1989) is an American professional basketball player for the Washington Mystics of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Early life

The daughter of a real estate developer and his wife, Delle Donne inherited her 6'5" (1.96 m) height from both her parents—her father, who played college golf, is 6'6" (1.98 m), and her mother is 6'2" (1.88 m). Her childhood was marked by a struggle to come to terms with her unusual height. According to a 2016 ESPN story, her first memory was going on a shopping trip when she was 3 years old and hearing other shoppers tell her mother that an 8-year-old should not be using a pacifier. In third grade, her class was assigned to measure themselves using lengths of paper; she "was humiliated" when her paper extended well beyond those of her classmates. Within two years of that incident, a doctor wanted to start her on injections to stunt her growth; her mother refused. By the time she was in eighth grade, she was already 6'0" (1.83 m). Additionally, according to the same ESPN piece, Delle Donne had to come to terms with having "a body that could do a great many things that the body of her older sister, Lizzie, couldn't." Lizzie was born deaf and blind, is unable to speak, and also has cerebral palsy and autism. In another 2016 ESPN story, Delle Donne credits her mother with helping her accept her height:

She's 6-2 and my dad is 6-6, so she understood. She was like, "I'm telling you, one day you are going to realize how beautiful your height is." She would always tell me how unique I am and say, "Why try to be like the rest of the pack? Be your own person."

High school career

Delle Donne gained national recognition as a high school basketball star at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware. She led Ursuline to three straight Delaware State Championship titles and was ranked as the number-one overall high school recruit by as well as a McDonald's All-American. She was the first and only student at Ursuline so far to score 2,000+ points during her high school career and also set the girls' high school national record for consecutive free throws made (80) in 2005–2006.

Delle Donne was also named a WBCA All-American. She participated in the 2007 WBCA High School All-America Game, where she scored 17 points, and earned MVP honors for the Red team.

She also participated in volleyball. Delle Donne won the volleyball DIAA state championship with Ursuline in 2007. She posted a season high 20 kills against Padua during a game involving the number one and two teams in the state.

College career

Following an outstanding prep career during which she became the most highly touted women's basketball recruit since Candace Parker, Delle Donne received a basketball scholarship from the University of Connecticut. However, in early June 2008, Delle Donne abruptly dropped out of Connecticut's summer school program after just two days in Storrs. Delle Donne was very close to her family, especially her older sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and is blind and deaf. She was not ready to be separated from her family. Gene, Elena's brother and the middle child of the Delle Donne family, would say in a 2012 ESPN story on his younger sister:

"Her relationship with Lizzie is huge. It's so close. It's a big reason why she is such a homebody who came home from UConn, because she craves to be around Lizzie and to experience Lizzie grabbing her and sniffing her and just spend quality time with her."

A week after leaving Connecticut, Delle Donne said by telephone from her home in Wilmington that she has "a lot of personal issues to fix. Only my family understands what's going on. Right now I am going to take a long personal break." She took a similar break prior to the 2007–08 season in high school.

On August 16, 2008, Delle Donne announced she would not accept the scholarship due to burnout, and instead decided to enroll at the University of Delaware and join their volleyball team as a walk-on. She played middle hitter at UD for the 2008–09 season. The 2008 Delaware Blue Hens finished their season with a record of 19–16. They were 9–5 in their conference (Colonial Athletic Association) and won the conference tournament. They earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but lost to Oregon in the first round. Delle Donne did not continue on the volleyball team in 2009, but joined the basketball team.

On June 2, 2009, Delle Donne announced that she would play basketball for the Blue Hens in the 2009–10 season as a redshirt freshman. In 2012, ESPN writer Graham Hays said about her return to the sport "it cannot be complete coincidence that it came the year Gene returned to Delaware and went to work for his dad's company." In a 2016 interview with ESPN, Delle Donne also recalled a trip she took during the summer of 2009 to the school that Lizzie was attending. While there, she met another woman at the school, a basketball fan who used a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, who told her, "Elena, do everything you can with your abilities, just like we do."

Delle Donne had a very productive freshman season. She averaged 26.7 points per game, the third-highest of all Division I women's basketball players. She scored 54 points in a loss against James Madison on February 18, 2010, which was the highest single-game point total by any Division I female basketball player that season. She was named the CAA Rookie of the Week six times, and the player of the week once during 2009–10.

She was voted the CAA's "Player of the Year" and "Rookie of the Year" in women's basketball by CAA coaches, sports information directors and media. This was the first time a player had won both awards in one year since Old Dominion's Lucienne Berthieu did so in 1999. No men's player has ever won both awards in the same season.

In her sophomore season, the team started off well, but then Delle Donne began to develop flu-like symptoms. In a game against Penn State, she asked to be taken out of the game, something she had never done before. After many tests, the doctors finally diagnosed her with Lyme disease. She struggled the rest of the season, but she helped her team reach the finals of the conference tournament and an invitation to the Women's NIT.

As a junior, Delle Donne led the nation in scoring, finishing the season with an average of 28.1 points per game. Her prowess attracted many fans to the Blue Hens games, with attendance rising 250 percent from the previous year. On February 16, 2012, Delle Donne scored 42 points in a win over Hofstra, eclipsing the 2,000 point mark for her career. Delaware were the CAA champions, qualifying for the 2012 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament. Delle Donne scored 39 out of the Blue Hens' first 56 points in their round 1 victory over UALR. Delaware would lead by halftime against Kansas in the next game, but despite Delle Donne's 34 points, the Jayhawks still won.

During the 2012–13 season, Delle Donne again fought Lyme disease, missing four games due to the illness. Delle Donne returned on December 12 against Maryland and led the team with 19 points and 6 rebounds in a 69–53 loss. This game was the largest crowd (5,089) to ever to see a women's basketball game at the Bob Carpenter Center, the Blue Hens' homecourt.

Delle Donne led her team in scoring in 22 regular season games during her senior season, as well as in rebounds in 12 games. She scored more than 30 points on five occasions, leading her team to a 27–3 regular season record entering CAA conference tournament play.

After winning the CAA conference tournament, the Blue Hens were seeded 6th in their region of the 2013 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament. Delle Donne led them to victories over #11 West Virginia and #3 North Carolina. The Blue Hens then lost to #2 Kentucky, despite Delle Donne's 33 points.

WNBA career

Following her collegiate career, Delle Donne was selected second overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky, a team that went 14–20 in the 2012 season. She was one of twelve players to be invited to the event. Delle Donne scored 22 points in her debut against fellow rookie Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury. The Sky went on to win the game, 102-80. She led all players in votes for the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game, the first time a rookie has done so in league history. She missed the game, however, due to a concussion. After the All-Star break, Delle Donne returned to action, and continued to play at a high level. The Sky qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Delle Donne was rewarded with the 2013 Rookie of the Year award.

The 2014 regular season had Delle Donne playing only 16 games due to a flare-up of Lyme disease, averaging less than 19 minutes in the final seven games. Eventually she rose up during the playoffs, helping the Sky defeat the Atlanta Dream in the first round, scoring 34 points and a game winning shot with 8.2 seconds left as the Sky erased a 17-point deficit with 8:12 remaining in the deciding game. However, Delle Donne was elbowed while going for a rebound in the Atlanta series, suffering a back injury that reduced her play time in the following round against the Indiana Fever. The Sky still got to the WNBA finals, where they lost to the Phoenix Mercury. Delle Donne played only 10 minutes in the first game, before taking medication to play 68 minutes and score 45 points over the final two games.

On September 16, 2015, Delle Donne was named the WNBA MVP for the 2015 season. She scored a league-high 23.4 points per game, shot a career-high 95% from the free throw line and was ranked third in rebounding. She received 38 of 39 first place votes. During the regular season, Delle Donne scored a career-high 45 points in an overtime win against the Atlanta Dream, while making a WNBA record, 19 consecutive free throws.

Delle Donne has played in two NBA All-Star Celebrity Games, in 2014 and 2016.

In the 2016 season, Delle Donne averaged 21.5 ppg helping the Sky to another playoff berth as they finished 18-16. With the WNBA's new playoff format in effect, the Sky were the number 4 seed in the league with a bye to the second round. Unfortunately, Delle Donne had suffered an injury on her right thumb in a loss to the Washington Mystics. Delle Donne would have season-ending surgery that would also keep her out for the playoffs. Delle Donne played 28 games in the season before the injury. Without Delle Donne, the Sky still had a decent playoff run, advancing to the semifinals (the last round before the WNBA finals) where they lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Sparks who would win the championship.

With Delle Donne approaching restricted free agent status and her rookie contract expiring, she was traded to the Washington Mystics in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the second overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft just a couple days before the start of free agency.

Overseas career

Unlike the vast majority of WNBA players, Delle Donne has not normally played overseas, choosing instead to spend the traditional basketball season in the U.S. to help care for her sister, Lizzie. Her first experience in an overseas league did not come until 2017, when she signed a short-term deal to play with the Chinese team Shanxi in that league's playoffs. Her stay in China prematurely ended when a flare-up of Lyme disease forced her to return to the U.S.

International career

During her college days, Delle Donne was selected to the 2011 USA Basketball Team for the World University Games played August 12–23 in Shenzhen, China. Delle Donne led the team to a gold medal with a perfect 6–0 record and averaged 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists. In the Championship game won by the USA 101–66 over Taiwan, Delle Donne scored 18 points on 8–14 shooting and led the team with 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

While Delle Donne was considered for the U.S. team that would play the 2014 World Championship, she wound up cut due to the back injury suffered in the WNBA Playoffs.

On April 27, 2016, Della Donne was named to the 2016 United States team that competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During the U.S. team's eighth gold medal campaign, she was a role player, starting off the bench in seven games and sitting out the game against China due to an eye injury received during practice. The U.S. team would win the gold medal as they defeated Spain 101-72. Delle Donne is the sixth gold medalist hailing from Delaware.

Personal life

Delle Donne was born in Wilmington, Delaware. Her parents are Ernie, a real estate developer, and Joanie. Her older brother, Gene, played college football as a tight end, first at Duke, then at Middle Tennessee. After he graduated from Middle Tennessee in 2009, he returned to Delaware to work in their father's company. Her older sister, Elizabeth (Lizzie), is blind, deaf, autistic and has cerebral palsy. While most WNBA players use the offseason to play for other leagues overseas, Delle Donne normally uses it to care for Lizzie.

In 2008, during her senior year in high school, Delle Donne was diagnosed with Lyme disease after being bitten by an infected tick on the property of her family's home in Delaware. Delle Donne has stated that she takes "around 50 supplements a day" and maintains healthy eating to combat this disease.

In February 2014, Delle Donne was named a Special Olympics Global Ambassador. She also played in the 3rd annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during All-Star weekend, alongside Special Olympics athletes, NBA legends and current WNBA and NBA players. Delle Donne plans to create The Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation, which will combine initiatives for both the Special Olympics and Lyme disease awareness.

In August 2016, Delle Donne's engagement to long-time girlfriend Amanda Clifton was made public. It was announced in the August copy of Vogue.

Endorsement deals

Since being drafted in the WNBA, Delle Donne has signed multiple endorsement deals with different companies. In 2013, Delle Donne signed endorsement deals with Nike, Wasserman Media Group and DuPont, a science company which is based in her hometown Wilmington, Delaware. In 2015, Delle Donne signed an endorsement deal with Octagon.

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Elena Delle Donne's Timeline

September 5, 1989
Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware, United States