After only a month or so as a member of the Sky, Elena Delle Donne has already consumed a deep dish-sized slice of local culture.
So far the 23-year old, drafted No. 2 overall in April, has sat in the front row of a Bulls game at the United Center, thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, strolled down Michigan Avenue and polished off a large meal at Gibson's steakhouse. Not bad for Delle Donne's first move away from her tiny home state of Delaware.
"I love it here. It's actually been an easy adjustment so far coming to Chicago," she said. "That's actually been a bit of a shock since it's the first time I've left Delaware, but it's been great."
It's less surprising to the star rookie's teammates and coaches, who believe Delle Donne's transition from college to pro basketball might be as smooth as her cross-country move. In her first WNBA game, she notched 22 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two assists in the Sky's 102-80 win over Phoenix.
"She's what we've been missing for the last five years, the total package, because she's got size and can shoot," teammate Sylvia Fowles said. "She's a rookie, but she's not acting like one. It's almost like she's already been thrown into the fire. I hope we don't overwhelm her too soon, but it seems like she can handle a lot."
Delle Donne said she's ready for anything, and that's good because the Sky are counting on her to help the franchise break a long streak of playoff futility. In the team's seven-year existence, it has yet to taste the postseason. Many, including last year's squad, believed they might take the leap in 2012. But starters Fowles and standout guard Epiphanny Prince missed a combined 18 games due to injuries, leading to a 14-20 record.
"Yeah, I thought we'd be in the playoffs last year, and we didn't," coach Pokey Chatman said. "But I look at this team and see one more year of experience and the pieces are there."
Those pieces include the now-healthy Fowles and Prince along with veteran Swin Cash and a host of young players like Carolyn Swords and Courtney Vandersloot. But the biggest addition was Delle Donne, who led the nation in scoring as a junior at Delaware despite seeing frequent double- and triple-teams. Now that she has a more talented supporting cast, she'll no longer be suffocated by swarming defenses, Chatman said.
"I noticed during [a preseason] game, she caught the ball in the post and looked around and paused for a second because it was like she expected the double-team to come and it didn't," Chatman said. "Suddenly she looked like a kid at Christmas."
Part of the thrill for Delle Donne is the idea of playing pro basketball in the same city as her favorite team.
"When you're in Delaware, you don't really have a team right there, so you can kind of pick and I was drawn to Michael Jordan and how incredible he was," she said. "So I ended up a huge Bulls fan and watched all the games. Really enjoyed seeing Jordan and Pippen. Now Derrick Rose is my favorite."
Meanwhile, the Sky are equally excited about landing Delle Donne for her considerable skills and marketing appeal. The 6-foot-5 blonde already is on the front of the Sky's website, and the team is selling a Delle Donne Deal season ticket offer that includes a meet-and-greet with her at a private event. She's also got a blog on ESPN and a "MTV Cribs"-style video on the WNBA home page showing off her Chicago apartment.
But Delle Donne said she's comfortable with all of the attention.
"I'm used to it, so it's fine," she said. "Some might see it as more pressure, but I look at it as a positive situation where I can help draw more attention to the Chicago Sky."
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
Sky vs. Connecticut
7:30 p.m. Friday, Allstate Arena
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