Approximately 917,000 people live in Delaware.
Clearly, not everyone in the state voted for Sky forward Elena Delle Donne in the WNBA’s all-star balloting. But Delle Donne, a Delaware native who captured hearts there when she led the Delaware Blue Hens to their first NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance in March, is convinced that a majority of her votes came from home.
Delle Donne was named an all-star starter on Thursday with 35,646 votes from fans. She earned more votes than any other player in the league, making her the first rookie in WNBA history to earn that distinction.
The WNBA’s all-star game will be played on July 27 in Connecticut (2:30 p.m., ABC7), just a hop, skip and a jump from Delle Donne’s home turf.
“I think the state of Delaware found a way to hack into the (all-star voting) system,” laughed Delle Donne, who boasts 49,000 Twitter followers, no doubt many of whom hail from Delaware. “I’m just kidding. But I think a lot of it was probably Delaware and then hopefully, I’m starting to get a following across the country.”
Even WNBA fans outside of Delaware and Chicago can’t help but appreciate Delle Donne’s game. She’s just that good.
I was convinced a long time ago that she would be a difference-maker in the WNBA and I advocated all along for the Sky to draft her with its No. 2 pick. But Delle Donne, who is averaging a team-leading 19.4 points and has played every position besides point guard for the Sky this season, has far exceeded even my expectations.
Her skill set, as advertised, has been spectacular. It is amazing to watch a 6-foot-5 woman, who would usually be stuck in the paint, handle the ball and drill 3-pointers with ease. But even more impressive is the consistency and poise that Delle Donne brings to the court.
Delle Donne rarely has had bad stretches, let alone long funks this season. In fact, I don’t think funk is in her vocabulary. Even in her lowest-scoring game this season, when she scored 12 points against Seattle, she still racked up double-figure rebounds (12).
Likewise, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Delle Donne lose her cool, or press because she’s frustrated. She is a relentlessly cool customer. That’s saying a lot for a rookie.
“Elena is a rookie who doesn’t play like a rookie,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “You can’t deny the obvious skill set, but it’s also her poise and her high basketball IQ.
“I also think she came into the perfect situation. She has players around her like (center) Sylvia Fowles and (guard) Epiphanny Prince who really complement her. They can take the pressure off and that way she can just play.”
Prince was also voted a starter for the Eastern Conference all-star squad. And Chatman is convinced that Fowles will be selected to the team as a reserve by conference coaches, who will fill out the roster within the next week.
“With this being my first time there, I think I’ll be nervous. But it’s great that Piph will be there (as a starter), because she’ll be able to calm me down,” Delle Donne said of the all-star game. “She’ll give me some comfort.”
And that would be business as usual. According to Delle Donne, her transition from college has been seamless and smooth because her Sky teammates have done nothing but make her feel comfortable.
“They’ve really helped me along the way,” Delle Donne said. “Since the first day of training camp it wasn’t about, ‘Hey, you’re the rookie, we’re going to put you in your place.’ It was more about them saying, ‘You can contribute to this team and we’re going to help you get to that moment as quick as possible.’
“We just didn’t have that whole rookie-veteran type of relationship, and I think that was huge.”
The payoff, of course, has been even bigger for the Sky, which not only now has two all-star starters but is currently in first place in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps Delle Donne can make even more history this season and lead the Sky to the first playoff berth in its eight-year existence. If so, by next season, there may be more than just Delaware residents trying to hack into the WNBA’s all-star voting system on her behalf.
Sky coach Pokey Chatman says that one of the things she loves most about rookie forward and newly minted all-star Elena Delle Donne is her humility. “Elena will often just say things to me like ‘Thank you so much for drafting me. I’m so happy to be here.’ Her parents will thank me, too. And, I’m always just like, ‘Really? Ummmm, OK. Sure.’ They’re thanking me? I think it’s funny that they’re the ones saying ‘Thank you.’ But that’s just the way Elena and her parents are. They’re good people, truly humble.”
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