WILMINGTON, Del. – The clock has barely ticked past 7 a.m., and Elena Delle Donne is already in the gym. Her name is all over the walls here at Ursuline Academy, where she broke every imaginable record and put her team on the map.
As she goes through drills with John Noonan, the current coach at Ursuline, the skills that made Delle Donne an MVP are evident. A 6-foot-5 forward who shot 95 percent from the foul line last year, she possesses the attributes that any aspiring basketball player would desire. But she wasn’t always comfortable with them.
Delle Donne finds joy anytime she returns to Delaware. She still goes to Ursuline games, and Noonan still trains her regularly. But she wasn’t always happy here in Wilmington.
That’s why, more than a year after she began writing, Delle Donne is back home promoting her pair of books, which will officially be available for purchase on Tuesday. After the early-morning workout, Delle Donne finishes her day with a pair of book signings. She has been doing several in the area, including one at Ursuline and another at the University of Delaware, where she starred from 2009-13.
“Delaware is where this all happened,” Delle Donne says. “It’s where I’ve learned these life lessons. It’s where the journey took place, so no better place than Delaware to kick this off.”
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One of the books, “Elle of the Ball,” was inspired by a specific time in her life when Delle Donne felt uncomfortable with her height. It’s about a 7th grade girl named Elle who stands six feet tall and goes through a similar experience of bullying and discomfort.
Delle Donne, whose father is 6-foot-6 and mother is 6-foot-2, has said she never embraced her appearance until college. “Elle of the Ball” is aimed at children and teenagers who may be struggling with those emotions.
“I didn’t even know that it was bullying when people were saying, ‘You’re so big. You’re bigger than my dad,’” she says now. “Or like, ‘You should duck down a little bit. You’re a tree.’ So just really making me feel bad about being unique and having something special about my appearance. I was super tall, and that’s awesome. It should be celebrated just like anyone’s differences.
“Hopefully that will be able to reach kids, because I feel like everyone in middle school has gone through something awkward that they’re not happy about. Just want them to know they’re not alone.”
Delle Donne said many of the specific stories in “Elle of the Ball” are exactly what happened to her in 7th grade. Her other book, “My Shot: Balancing It All and Standing Tall,” is a memoir that details several different stages in her basketball career. That includes her decision to come home from the University of Connecticut, her ongoing battle with Lyme disease, the various injuries she has suffered in the WNBA, and more.
Through these experiences, Delle Donne has learned valuable lessons that she wants to pass along.
“If I wasn’t playing basketball, I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “[The book] was able to get me back into the schools a little bit. Interacting with these kids through education and reading is super fun for me. I also feel like there are things that all kids are going to go through. Hopefully they’ll be able to relate to my story and say, ‘Oh, she’s a professional athlete now. She seems to be doing well.’ I’m hoping I can make them confident and know that they’re not alone.”
For Delle Donne, the feeling of becoming an author was one she’ll never forget.
“When I went to my publisher and they brought out the two copies of the books — the hard copies — I’m just sitting there like, ‘Holy cow. This is real life,’” she says. “It’s just a dream come true. And then now, just being able to interact with the kids. I think the most rewarding will be after they’ve read them and I get to hear their reaction.”
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Ten hours after her morning workout, Delle Donne has just finished signing hundreds of books for fans of all ages at the University of Delaware. She was so excited to see all of the familiar faces that she hadn’t taken a sip of her water bottle during the event.
She tells the folks that she looks forward to seeing them again soon, as her Washington Mystics will play a preseason game at UD on May 12. The crowd will be full of people who have supported Delle Donne for years, people who know her story and have been through the ups and downs of this unique journey with her.
She’s one of the most successful women’s basketball players in the world – and a revered figure in her home state – but Delle Donne hopes to keep inspiring. There will be at least two more books published on Elle in the future as she continues to tell the story of that six-foot-tall 7th grader.
“This enabled me to sit down and tell it through my lens,” she says. “I’m the one who’s lived this life, so there’s no one better to tell it than myself. It was a really fun journey to go on.”