Elena Delle Donne loves the style of basketball that is played at the University of Connecticut. She admits that she still finds herself watching her former Huskies teammates on television and marveling at what they can do on the court.
"I root for them," she wrote in an e-mail interview this past week. "They play a perfect brand of basketball, which I love to see."
But playing perfect basketball is not the same as being perfectly happy. This is what Delle Donne has learned about herself, learned about life, during the past two years.
Delle Donne doesn't hate basketball the way she thought she did when she walked away from the Huskies the summer before last season before ever playing a game. In fact, she loves the sport more than ever now that she is playing for the comparatively imperfect University of Delaware.
While the Huskies are undefeated and the top-ranked team in the nation, Delaware carries an 11-6 record into today's game at Hofstra.
No, the Blue Hens aren't on anyone's short list of basketball powerhouses. But the team plays its home games just a short drive from her family's home in Wilmington and from Lizzie, Delle Donne's disabled older sister, with whom she has a special bond.
"Before, I wasn't able to enjoy the game for what it was because I was caught up in dreading what the future held for me, which would mean leaving home," Delle Donne said. "Today, I play for the love of the game . . . Delaware is the only place I can play and feel that way because it is my home."
She is averaging 25.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 43.6 percent from three-point range and 90.8 percent from the free-throw line. She had a 39-point game against Buffalo and a 35-point game against Princeton.
Delle Donne had been groomed to play at an elite level at an early age. She started basketball when she was 4 and had a personal trainer by the age of 9. By her senior year, she was 6-5 and widely regarded as the nation's top basketball recruit.
"My whole life I had a dream of wearing a UConn uniform and being like my favorite player, Diana Taurasi," Delle Donne said. "It was extremely hard to walk away."
When Delle Donne left Connecticut, she thought she was burned out on the sport. Last season, she sat out a basketball season for the first time in 15 years after walking on to the Delaware volleyball team. But as the basketball season progressed, she found herself watching more and more.
By the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around, she realized that she still loved basketball. She just hadn't loved the idea of playing so far away from home, where she couldn't communicate with Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and suffers from cerebral palsy.
"Lizzie and I have an unspoken love that means the world to me," Delle Donne said. "Watching her life struggles put everything in perspective for me. Seeing her smile is something that can cheer me up even in my worst moments."
Delle Donne sees Lizzie and her family at least once a week. She is majoring in early childhood education with an emphasis on special education. Lizzie has been to two games, something Delle Donne said could never have happened if she had stayed at Connecticut.
Said Delle Donne: "I'm playing where I belong."