The Unusual Case of Elena Delle Donne

Saturday, December 27, 2008

So, imagine you're the top athlete in the country in your sport, at your particular level, and you realize that you're really, really sick of the sport you excel in. You get a scholarship to a powerhouse program, and two days in, you quit and move back to a Div. I-AA school closer to home.

Sound weird? Well, that's the case of Elena Delle Donne, whom you may have heard about. She was a 6'4" guard all set to play for Geno Auriemma at UConn until she'd finally had it with basketball in general -- now, ESPN's Mark Schwarz checked in with her for a piece to air on Outside the Lines tomorrow, and she seems more than happy to be away from the path that had been set out for her. She's now playing volleyball for Delaware; this came only months after everyone was predicting that she would be the Next Big Thing to impact women's hoops on a big-time level in both the college and, eventually, the pro ranks, after Candace Parker.

The piece makes Auriemma come off like a bit of a prick, saying he can't understand how someone can play a game that they've hated since the age of 13. Well, if you have a trainer from the age of 7 like Delle Donne did, and you get real good at something, it's hard to give it up even if you loathe it. Considering the pressure put on players like Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw before her (and Holdsclaw had a breakdown) in the lower-stakes world (media-wise) of women's hoops, it's a wonder we don't hear about more cases of burnout from male athletes in the power sports of football and basketball -- kids are specializing in a sport earlier and earlier, and those with disposable income are getting all sorts of specialized training.

Then again, Delle Donne may have the luxury of being able to walk away from a basketball career that would have likely had her globe-hopping between the WNBA and a Euro team. Many of the athletes making it big in the pro and college ranks are doing it for a shot at a better financial future.

Delle Donne finds happiness at Delaware [ESPN]

Posted by Signal to Noise at 5:06 PM

13 Comments:

I watched the piece and Auriemma is a prick. I am glad she said FU to him and basketball and is now where she wants to be.

49er16 said...
Dec 27, 2008, 5:23:00 PM  

It is a very interesting story when viewed through an economic lens or a gender lens. It's a generalization, but watch Hoop Dreams sometime if you want to see some young, poor kids being told Basketball is the only way and all those looking for a piece of the gravy train telling them not to quit. She had the option to quit.

And there is also something very real about her being a female athlete and not feeling the payoff is worth the sacrifice. Sure, she could go the Bird/Taurasi/Hammon route and play for big money in Russia, but apparently that's not a future she wants to embrace. Good for her.

And if you needed this story to realize Gino is a prick then that shows how little anyone really does pay attention to women's hoops.

Gibbon Jockey said...
Dec 27, 2008, 6:16:00 PM  

I live in Connecticut and the women's basketball players here get far more attention than they would anywhere else in the country. The Hartford Courant had stories about Della Donne since last October, at last, when she was still in high school. I actually emailed the Courant editor and got in an e-mail tiff with him because I thought it was absurd coverage for such a niche sport.

I think the other thing to realize is that many of the female basketball players do not come from very poor backgrounds, like in the men's game. Obviously, there are but look at Taurasi, Sue Bird or any of the players that came through UConn...they did not have families depending on them to make money. And honestly...there isn't that much money to be made in women's basketball, even including Europe. There's money but not in the tens of millions of dollars.

And Geno is a huge prick, always has been.

Sean O said...
Dec 27, 2008, 6:21:00 PM  

First Flacco, now Della Donne...get a great education and excel at athletics at UD.

/homer

Anonymous said...
Dec 27, 2008, 8:50:00 PM  

Maybe she found out that womens basketball wasn't a sport.

Anonymous said...
Dec 27, 2008, 9:18:00 PM  

Kinda sounds like Stefan Legein, the hot hockey prospect who quit in the preseason, saying he was burnt out.

He just recently decided he wants back in, and will spend the rest of the year in the AHL.

Shaggy said...
Dec 27, 2008, 10:10:00 PM  

Mary Carillo(sp?) talked about her on the "Real Sports" year-end show the other night; saying that she looks really happy playing volleyball. And this is not the first time rumors have circulated about Auriema being an asshole, either .

Bruce said...
Dec 28, 2008, 12:10:00 AM  

Yeah, it's not surprise Geno came across as a prick. That's mainly because he always comes across as a prick.

Michael said...
Dec 28, 2008, 1:42:00 AM  

I'm a little surprised espn is making light of this story now. The NY Times and Washington Post had articles on this weeks and weeks ago. Kudos to Delle Donne for doing what she feels is right. And Geno is indeed a Richard.

jp23 said...
Dec 28, 2008, 6:32:00 AM  

Stories like this bring up one of my biggest pet pieves (sp?). There is no such thing as a D-I(AA) school (FCS now) when NOT discussing football. Since this story has nothing to do with football, the term mid-major school would have been much more apropriate (especially since there is NO DIFFERENCE between D-I volleyball at UConn and Deleware - i.e. they compete for the EXACT SAME National Championship).

Anonymous said...
Dec 28, 2008, 1:33:00 PM  

Yeah, Auriemma's always been a bit of a prick, but his point is that he can't believe someone that's hated playing basketball since 13 could still be so *good* at it, and I understand his point. That is a bit of a puzzle.

And he didn't give her any trouble about releasing her from her scholarship...which he could've, if he'd really been a prick.

Frank said...
Dec 28, 2008, 2:39:00 PM  

FYI - There's no such thing as Div. I-AA volleyball. I-A/I-AA classifications only exist in Division I football and are defined primarily by scholarships allowed.

Delaware's volleyball program is a full fledged, honest-to-goodness, Division I program.

AppFan said...
Dec 29, 2008, 9:06:00 AM   Apr 8, 2009, 5:31:00 AM  

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