The image of Chicago Sky All-Star Elena Delle Donne waving to the crowd as she walked off the U.I.C. Pavilion court following Chicago's game 3 loss to the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals will forever be embedded in the minds of Sky fans.
It was symbolic. Throughout the tumultuous 2014 season, Elena Delle Donne was supported by Sky fans that watched her struggle with a back injury, and complications from Lyme Disease. An improbable playoff run saw the Sky make it to the Finals on the ailing back of Delle Donne. When it was over, the Delaware native acknowledged the Chicago faithful for their unwavering support -- it was a bitter sweet moment.
After playing in just 16 regular season games, Delle Donne was dominant in the 2014 WNBA Playoffs, almost single handedly disposing of the first seeded Atlanta Dream, in one of the most memorable performances in basketball history.
Delle Donne helped erase a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter of game 3, in Chicago's first round series versus Atlanta, that was punctuated by a 17 point fourth quarter from the 2-time All-Star.
Delle Donne and Co. then defeated the team that swept them in the previous year's playoffs, the Indiana Fever, in route to the franchise's first Eastern Conference Championship.
When the Finals rolled around Delle Donne was troubled by a bad back. Tallying just 2 points in ten minutes of game 1 versus the Phoenix Mercury, it appeared that Chicago's luck had run out. Elena Delle Donne would bounce back scoring 45 points over the next two games, but it wasn't enough. Chicago's magical playoff run ended at the hands of arguably the best team in WNBA history.
2015 is a new beginning and redemption is on the mind of Elena Delle Donne. Sky management used the offseason to surround its best player, with physically and mentally tough complimentary pieces, in hopes that they can push the Chicago Sky over the hump. Out are Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince, in are 2-time WNBA champion Cappie Pondexter, and a cavalcade of rookies that don't mind getting their hands dirty.
After having a taste of the Finals, Delle Donne is hungry for more, which is bad news for the rest of the WNBA. This could be a defining year for someone who is already one of the league's best players. The new WNBA season is upon us and Elena Delle Donne is happy, healthy, and hoping to make history.
Swish Appeal: Was your off-season workout different this year than from the previous years?
Elena Delle Donne: "It was. Back home I got a new strength coach and did a lot more circuit work. I did way more body control to strengthen my core and it seemed to have helped my back a lot. I did a lot of yoga. I'd never done yoga before so that was another thing I tried out. The on-court stuff is pretty consistent and stays the same."
SA: Last season had a disappointing ending but you were spectacular throughout the playoffs despite illness and injuries. Were you able to look back at your playoff run and be proud of what you accomplished?
EDD: "Yeah, it took a while. Obviously you really have that bitter taste after losing the championship and feeling like you weren't good enough - Phoenix was better. Once I got over that disappointment I was able to reflect and be like, 'Wow, through all that adversity we were somehow able to get there.' It was a cool journey so I've definitely been able to reflect and smile on it."
SA: How different will this team look without Piph (Epiphanny Prince) and Syl (Sylvia Fowles) on the roster?
EDD: "After one day I feel like there is so much energy and excitement. It's a very uplifting and vibrant group -- young, but very, very talented. I think you're going to see a lot of spacing and a lot more slashing. I don't know, we've only had two practices but I'm excited about where we're going to go."
SA: Is there any extra pressure on you to rebound the ball more due to Syl's absence?
EDD: "Oh yeah. I think everybody is going to have to step up their rebounding, especially myself. That's been a focus right away - crashing the glass and making "
SA: What does Cappie Pondexter bring to the table?
EDD: "[Laughs] She's amazing! What a piece that we were missing. She brings that veteran role that we were missing for a long time. She brings so much experience, wisdom, maturity, and great leadership. Her skillset is second to none. She's so talented on the court as well."
SA: You played more power forward last year than I think you were expecting to. Is the plan to play you more at small forward this year?
EDD: "The plan is the play the 3 and the 4 but things happen throughout a season. I'm willing to play whatever role I have to in order to help us win games."
SA: What did you take away from your experience in the Finals last year?
EDD: "We obviously had improved a ton but we still had a mental lapse in the Finals. We just weren't where Phoenix was. Cappie has already helped that role by showing us that everyday we're going to compete, we're going to butt heads in practice, we're going to attack each other, and then give each other a big hug at the end of the day because we worked each other out really hard.
"It's going to start in practice, that championship grit. Cappie is bringing that role in and hopefully I can continue to learn from her and support that."
SA: What's it going to take to make it back to the Finals?
EDD: "[Laughs] Right now it's so early I don't know what we're up against because we're so focused on ourselves. I think we're going to obviously need to have a really good transition game and defensively we're going to have to be able to stop dribble penetration because in the league that's the biggest thing. If you can stop dribble penetration you're pretty set."