After the Chicago Sky (9-14) snapped a six-game losing streak by trumping their longtime nemesis, the Indiana Fever 60-57 Tuesday night at Allstate Arena, head coach Pokey Chatman gave another bit of optimism to a season on the brink:
"Elena Delle Donne will "probably" return July 31 against New York (at Allstate Arena), if her treatments and workouts go well."
Sky Head Coach Pokey Chatman, as reported by ESPNW and the Chicago Tribune
Delle Donne, who was averaging 21.2 points per game, hasn't been on a basketball court since June 25, when the Sky played the Connecticut Sun to an 89-79 loss. Delle Donne was clearly ailing at that time...she was held to just seven points.
Later that week, it was announced that she was being treated for a flareup of Lyme Disease, which she contracted after being bitten by a deer tick at her family's home in Delaware several years ago.
"So grateful for everyone's constant support. Wish I could thank you all individually. Just know I'm reading your thoughts and am inspired!"
And yet, she's still inspiring people, even while fighting her way back to health.
Yesterday, she was to meet with the female basketball campers at the Dwayne Wade-Brandon Marshall Sports Academy, 'offering her insight on the game and what it takes to make it as a WNBA player.'
Earlier this season, she was awarded the 2014 Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, the highest service award in the WNBA, for her work with the Special Olympics, and Lyme Disease research. Laurel Richie, WNBA president, had this to say:
“The minute she stepped into the league, Elena has done everything possible to make a difference not just on the basketball court, but in the community as well,” Her resilience and dedication as an athlete is matched by her passion for making a difference in the community. She’s a genuine role model in everything that she does.”
WNBA President Laurel J. Richie
Delle Donne, in response, posted this on her Facebook page:
"It’s an honor to receive the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award. I’ve always looked up to Dawn for her accomplishments on the court and in the community. As an athlete, you’re given an enormous platform to use however you choose. By sharing my personal experiences with Lyme disease, along with my sister Lizzie’s challenges, I’ve been able to help educate and inspire others to overcome obstacles that they’re faced with. I’m thankful to the WNBA, Special Olympics, Lyme Research Alliance and Coach Dawn Staley for giving me an avenue off the court to make a difference."
But her primary job has been difficult this year. In a season that has seen four starters go down with surgeries, injuries and 'personal issues' (Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Courtney Vander Sloot and Epiphanny Prince), the Sky still went undefeated for their first four games to start the season, despite Fowles and Prince being out with injuries. She was named May's Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
Why? Credit the combination of Delle Donne and Jessica Breland, who came to the Sky from the Indiana Fever this year and is a Hodgkins lymphoma survivor herself.
Delle Donne and Breland reminded me of the old Scottie Pippen-to-Michael Jordan setup. That's how good they were together.
But since Delle Donne left for treatment, and Breland went down with a right leg injury, the Sky have suffered, going 2-8 since June 25 (which was also a loss). Before Indiana, their last win was a 90-83 victory over Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks on July 1.
It proves all the more my theory when she was just a rookie: At the end of the day, Elena Delle Donne is to the Chicago Sky is what Michael Jordan was to the Bulls when he was drafted....
As one of the impossibly talented "Three To Watch," (Brittany Griner, Phoenix Mercury, Skylar Diggins, Tulsa Shock), Delle Donne has had the most spectacular of rookie seasons: She led the Sky to their best record ever, making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and was a unanimous choice for 2013 Rookie of the Year. She was the top Eastern Conference vote-getter for this year's All-Star Game, which she missed due to Lyme Disease.
Delle Donne may not dunk, but she electrifies Allstate Arena. Like Mike, she makes players around her better. 2012 All-Star Courtney Vandersloot, another number one draft pick, who appears more comfortable when the fate of the game is not in her hands. At 6'5, Delle Donne is an easy target for three-time All-Star, 6'6 center Sylvia Fowles. Unlike Mike, though, she is generous with the ball, creating opportunities for consistent scorers like two-time All-Star Epiphanny Prince.
Like Mike, she can take over a game when necessary. ESPN and Elias Sports Bureau reported that the Sky allow 10.3 fewer points in the paint per 40 minutes with Delle Donne on the court.
As much as she can "Be Like Mike," there are a few differences.
Unlike Jordan, Delle Donne has had to alternate brilliance on the court while fighting what would appear to be nearly insurmountable challenges off-court. Her tight-knit family, including a disabled sister, ended up putting the University of Delaware Blue Hens on the map after Delle Donne missed her family too much to play three states away for Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies.
At Delaware, according to Wikipedia, she fought through two draining bouts of Lyme Disease in her sophomore and senior years while racking up records on the court. As a junior, Delle Donne led the nation in scoring, finishing the season with an average of 28.1 points per game. She scored 42 points in a win over Hofstra, eclipsing the 2,000 point mark for her career. During the 2012–2013 season, Delle Donne again fought Lyme Disease, missing four games. Delle Donne returned on December 12 against Maryland and led the team with 19 points and 6 rebounds in a 69–53 loss. She scored more than 30 points on five occasions her senior year, leading the Blue Hens to a 27–3 regular season record, on to an NCAA berth.
At the end of his rookie season, Jordan had averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He’s also the only rookie to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
While Delle Donne has been injured more frequently, and has more humility than Jordan, she and Jordan carry similar burdens and expectations. And I'm predicting, and some point, Delle Donne will bury her face in a WNBA Championship Trophy. Like this:
It may not be this season. But with the Sky, there's every opportunity that they will again make the playoffs. The Eastern Conference, like their NBA brothers, is up for grabs. In the last month of regular season play, with Delle Donne back, they can make a run for it.
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