As WNBA returns, Sky's Delle Donne reflects on Olympic gold
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Think back WNBA fans. Way back.
There was a season going on several weeks ago. Now, after a 34-day break for the Olympics, it's game on again. Strange, but true.
The Chicago Sky, fighting for its playoff life with 10 games left, resumed the 2016 season with a game at Allstate Arena Friday night against the Atlanta Dream. It was a strange moment for Sky star Elena Delle Donne to see her Olympic teammate, Angel McCoughtry of the Atlanta Dream, in a different uniform.
Delle Donne and McCoughtry help the United States women cruise in Rio, earning the team's sixth straight gold medal.
"That was the best part of the whole (Olympic) experience for me … the friendships I made with my teammates," said Delle Donne, the WNBA's reigning most valuable player. "We spent so much time together, every single day (for a month). Those are friendships that will last a lifetime.
"When I saw Angel (at Friday's shootaround), I gave her a big hug. It's weird to go out and compete against her now. Everyone is kind of friends with everyone (in the WNBA). But this is a little different now with Angel (and the other Olympians). Now, maybe it's go out and get dinner after the game."
The U.S. women certainly ate well while in Rio. Delle Donne says one of her best off-the-court moments was dinner at a swanky Brazilian steakhouse after a tour of the "Christ the Redeemer" statue.
"We went as a team and it was amazing," Delle Donne said. "Seeing that statue and all the amazing views of Rio was really cool. It was great to experience that culture."
Winning a gold medal was cool, too. Even though the U.S. women, like the U.S. men, were expected to win it all, it was still emotional for the players to finally do it.
"A dream come true," Delle Donne said of having the gold medal hung around her neck and standing atop the medal stand. "I grew up watching the Olympics. I loved it. I wanted to be there in some way someday. That gold medal is quite a prized possession of mine."
And, according to Delle Donne, it was harder to come by than everyone else thought.
"Everyone was making it seem like it was so easy for us," said Delle Donne, a reserve on a team with an average margin of victory in Rio of 38.4 points per game. "It actually was really difficult. Our team had to come together in less than a month and try to gain chemistry, and I remember at the beginning we weren't playing very beautiful basketball.
"But we were at the end. And that was the amazing part. It was the most fun I've ever had in basketball. Great coaching, and everyone was so talented and intelligent and willing to take on a new role if it meant helping the team. It's just fun to play on a team like that because it can take your game to new heights."
And yet, USA head coach Geno Auriemma kept all the personalities on an even keel.
"He never made us feel the pressure," Delle Donne said. "I really liked playing for him. It's not just the X's and O's with him, but he helped us through the pressure with his funny personality. He's really fun."
Delle Donne had so much fun she's already thinking about Tokyo's 2020 Games.
"I would love to go back," Delle Donne said. "It was the greatest experience of my life."
But first, Delle Donne has work to do. She wants to get the Sky back to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
"This is the weirdest season I've ever played in (because of the Olympic break), but I'm ready to get going again," Delle Donne said. "I was so excited to see my (Sky) teammates again. They've been working hard (during the break), doing stadium stairs and beach workouts. I know they are dying to play some games.
"We've got some good teams to fight (for a playoff spot). We're ready."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter@babcockmcgraw. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.