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Elena Delle Donne Reminds Us That There's More To Life Than Basketball

This isn't really WNBA news, but I think Elena Delle Donne's Monday announcement that she will not be playing basketball this season says as much about the women's basketball pipeline as it does about her own desire to play.

For those of us that have not been following this closely (myself included), here's a brief description of the situation from the Connecticut Post:

Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 guard from Wilmington, Del, was projected as a major player in UConn's drive toward a sixth national championship this season. But less than 48 hours after UConn coach Geno Auriemma issued a statement that she will not enroll at UConn, Delle Donne issued a statement Monday saying that she will not play college basketball this season.

The idea of a 6'5" guard getting away must be difficult for UConn fans. However, there's something wrong about the way we begin define 18-year-olds by their ability to play basketball rather than people making one of the most important decisions of their lives: where to obtain an education.

So Kara Wolers' comment to the Connecticut Post was troubling to me:

"She's so good. What a waste," Wolters said Saturday. "It's the most bizarre thing I ever heard. To have an opportunity like that to play, obviously, at the best college women's basketball program in the world. ... and she threw it away."

What jumps out about Wolters' comment is the "what a waste" piece, which seems a bit harsh. What exactly is she wasting? If we've elevated one college basketball program to the point where there is nothing more important in life, then we have a bigger problem than whether Delle Donne will make it to the WNBA. We've apparently lost perspective.

Although the details surrounding Delle Donne's decision are not entirely clear to the public, many people are assuming that it's the pressure from the college recruiting process that led to her wavering about the whole endeavor and now leaving UConn.

I thought Dan at the 5280ft blog put it well back in July:

As far as can be assumed, Elena cracked. She's been under pressure from recruiters since before high school, speculation for years that she could start in the WNBA without even going to college. And please, stop yourself right now before you make a smart remark to yourself about a lack of mental toughness being the problem with the women's game. Lebron handled the same hype and more, true. But he had mentors. Men's high school athletes have been subject to recruiting and scouting, like
this absolute monstrosity, for years. There are other athletes out there to form a support system, beyond their own families, to advise, counsel and mentor these young men. It's just not out there for women. Not until very recently, perhaps as recently as Candace Parker and Maya Moore, has this kind of spotlight been shined on female athletes. You, me, or anyone else can't blame her for wilting under the pressure. I only hope that the young lady is able to straighten herself out and come back to lead a successful career.
Since she did attend UConn for a few days, it's hard to say that recruiting alone dictated her decision, but I think Dan's point about the increasing pressure surrounding women's basketball without the blue chip support network that a LeBron James had in the men's game is valid. And even though it's likely that Delle Donne's decision is a combination of recruiting pressures and the hyper-competitive atmosphere of UConn basketball, I thought that HappyCappie25 made a good point at Rebkell -- we need to rethink the entire college recruiting process, from initial contact to enrollment.
...her case really should be a wake up call beyond WBB and in all of college sports...that is...STOP TREATING KIDS LIKE A DEAD CARCASS IN THE MIDDLE OF DESERT TO BE POUNCED ON BY JACKALS.

I'll say it...GOOD, I hope she goes to a nice school, graduates magna cum laude, gets a 6 figure job in whatever she chooses and sticks it to the college recruiting community.

I'm not just calling out college coaches, most are less than half of the problem and many have called for reform. It's agents disgusied as coaches, its the AAU the dirtiest, most underhanded group i have had the displeasure of talking to, its sites like and Rivals, its boosters, adminstrators, Unscruplious HS coaches and HS fans who treat 16-18 year olds like they're Michael Jordan before they even can get an education. It's street agents and hangers on who are trying to get an early peice of the pie, yes in some case it's parents who see their own flesh and blood as nothing more than a meal ticket.
College recruiting has become a meat market where these kids are treated as objects of everyone else's entertainment. That's just no way to live life. And although it was only speculation, I particularly like a comment from John Altavilla at
No one has told me this, but I stongly believe there were people in her very close circle that wanted her to go to UConn more than she wanted to go to UConn and she made the decision simply to try to please. That never works in life.
I think we sometimes forget that there’s a natural breaking point for most people and most big-time college athletes have an extraordinarily high threshold for pressure that the majority of society probably couldn’t withstand. But when we push people to the point that external factors are dictating their life decisions and the lines between self-determination and public opinion begin to dissolve, it makes sense that the result would be anxiety and internal conflict. It’s like walking around numb playing a role without a script.

If Delle Donne had the presence of mind to reject what everyone else wanted of her in favor of an opportunity to recapture some sense of internal stability, I’d say that’s a mature decision, although waiting this long may have been immature.

So her switch to Delaware probably isn’t a waste at all – it’s an opportunity to create her own legacy, even if it’s not defined entirely by basketball.

Transition Points:

UConn coach Geno Auriemma informed The Courant this morning by email that he has granted Elena Delle Donne's release from her scholarship.

The move by Auriemma essentially clears the way for Delle Donne to play volleyball this season for the University of Delaware, where she announced she would be going to school this fall instead of UConn.,0,5081086.story

Update 2: From Mike DiMauro of The Day --
Reinforcement No. 1: I will never - never, never, never, never, never, never, never - pay attention to these scouting services ever again. You know. The ones that attempt to differentiate the 56th best high school player from the 112th best. It's a sham. Every bit of it.

Here's why: All these people who attach numbers to children cannot measure ambition, emotion and the inner burn from their momentary snippets of observation. It's why Ketia Swanier is a starter in the WNBA. It's why Tyler Lorenzen is a better college quarterback than Ron Powlus. Recruiting is more inexact than forecasting next week's weather. The idea that people are making money off it - or that newspaper folk perpetuate their uninformed opinions - would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.

Relevant Links:

Darnelia Russell & the WNBA Age Requirement