The Abruzzo Connection of WNBA Star Elena Delle Donne

By Joseph “Sonny” Scafetta, Jr.

Elena Delle Donne
Credit: Ned Dishman

As the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) begins its 2023 season, the Notiziario profiles one of the league’s brightest stars, Elena Delle Donne who has roots in Abruzzo.

Elena Delle Donne was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 5, 1989. She is the third child of Ernest Delle Donne and his wife. Elena’s paternal grandmother was Elena Calvarese who had emigrated from Abruzzo. Elena fondly recalls Sunday evening dinners which a great uncle would prepare for her large family. Elena’s older sister, Elizabeth, is blind, deaf, mute, autistic, and afflicted with cerebral palsy. Elena cares for her during the off season. Elena’s older brother, Eugene, works with his father in the family real estate developing business.

Elena’s father is 6’6″ and her mother is 6’2″, so Elena grew to be 6’5″ tall. She played volleyball and basketball in an all-girls high school named Ursuline Academy in Wilmington. She led Ursuline to the 2007 state volleyball championship and three straight state basketball championships. As a result, she became the player most sought after by colleges.

When she graduated in 2008, she decided to enroll in the University of Delaware where she played volleyball during her first year. In her second year, she switched to play basketball. At the end of the season, she was voted Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. Only one woman and no men had won both college honors before Elena. During her next year, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease which was caused by an infected tick that bit her in the family backyard. As a junior, she returned to lead the nation in scoring with an average of 28 points per game. In her senior year, Elena helped her team win the Colonial Athletic Association Conference Tournament.

After graduation, she was selected second in the WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. At the end of the 2013 season, she was named Rookie of the Year. She missed most of the 2014 season due to a reoccurrence of Lyme disease. She returned to form in 2015, was the scoring champion with 23.4 points per game, and was named the WNBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). In 2016, she led her team to the playoffs but season-ending surgery on her right thumb kept her out of the playoffs. After she recovered, she helped the United States win the gold medal in women’s basketball at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With her four-year rookie contract expiring and with her approaching restricted free agent status, Elena was traded to the Washington Mystics in the 2017 off season. On November 3, 2017, she married Amanda Clifton at the Hempstead House in Sands Point, New York. They have no children. Due to the absence of a key player, the Mystics coach switched Elena from her usual position as a shooting guard to the starting power forward position where she led the team for the first time to the WNBA semi-final round which the team lost. When 2018 began, she helped the United States win the gold medal in the World Cup competition held throughout Spain. During the subsequent WNBA season, she led the Mystics to the final round for the first time, but unfortunately, they lost. In the 2019 season, she helped the Mystics become the number 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs which they won for the first time in franchise history. Also, Elena won the MVP award for the second time in her career. More importantly, she became the first woman to join the prestigious 50-40-90 club of players to make in one season 50% of her field goal shots, 40% of her three-point shots, and 90% of her free throws. Only nine men had previously achieved that feat. In 2020 and 2021, she sat out both seasons due to her vulnerability to COVID-19. Nevertheless, she was named to The W25 which is a list of the best 25 players during the WNBA’s first 25 years. In 2022, Elena played in her seventh All-Star Game. She looks forward to playing this coming season which begins on May 19,2023.


May/June 2023

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