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One to Watch: Elena Delle Donne

Family’s need drove academic interest

Elena Delle Donne
University of Delaware
Sport: Women's Basketball

The 26-year-old Delaware native was one of the greatest high school athletes in the state's history. At 6-foot-5, Delle Donne was recruited heavily by several colleges, but she ultimately favored the University of Delaware's proximity to her family. Rather than pursue basketball at Delaware, Delle Donne walked on to the school's volleyball team for the 2008-09 season and wound up leading the Blue Hens to a conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. The following year, Delle Donne changed her athletic focus and joined Delaware's basketball team. She averaged 26.7 points per game that season, third-highest among all Division I women's basketball players, and earned conference player of the year and rookie of the year awards. Delle Donne was the second selection in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. Last year, she was named the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 23.4 points per game, the highest in the league.

When to Watch: The U.S. women's basketball team plays at 11 a.m. Eastern time today against Spain, followed by games Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Olympic quarterfinal play begins Aug. 16.

Why we're Cheering: In choosing to attend Delaware, Elena Delle Donne remained close with her family, particularly her older sister, Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy. Lizzie's condition inspired Delle Donne's interest in special education and encouraged her to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services with a concentration in administration and family policy. The CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year in Division I women's basketball thrived while balancing her multiple commitments. Delle Donne's strong family bonds provided her mental and emotional strength to stay at the top of her game in the classroom and on the court. Even when she suffered from Lyme disease during her sophomore season and again during her senior season, she bounced back remarkably well. In her first game after recovering as a senior, Donne led the team with 19 points and six rebounds in a loss to Maryland.

Others to watch today:

  • Sam Mikulak (men's gymnastics, USA): Raised by parents who both received full scholarships to the University of California, Berkley, to compete in gymnastics, Mikulak was introduced to the sport at age 2. While he was unable to compete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials due to ankle injuries, he has successfully secured his spot on the team this year. A back-to-back NCAA champion in the all-around event, Mikulak led the University of Michigan to consecutive NCAA national titles in 2013 and 2014.
  • David Boudia and Steele Johnson (diving, 10-meter synchronized, USA): This synchronized diving team perfected their dives as members of the Purdue University squad. While this will be Boudia's third Olympics, it will be Johnson's first. As a current student-athlete at Purdue, Johnson has won two NCAA titles, while Boudia won six NCAA championships.