NEWARK, Del. - Whenever Delaware's NCAA tournament run ends, Elena Delle Donne will look back on her college career with no regrets.
"Honestly, I think the happy ending has already occurred,'' Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said. "The happy ending is that Elena is happy.''
After starring at Ursuline Academy in Delaware, Delle Donne accepted a scholarship to perennial title contender Connecticut in 2008. Almost immediately after arriving at the school, the 18-year-old got homesick and left in tears.
Saying she was burned out from basketball, the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne enrolled at Delaware and played on the volleyball team during her freshman year. Eventually, she approached Martin and asked to join the basketball team.
It's been a thrill ride ever since.
Delle Donne has become the most prolific scorer in Colonial Athletic Association history, was voted CAA player of the year three times and led Delaware to two straight league titles, the last coming Sunday to extend the team's school-record winning streak to 25 games. The Blue Hens (30-3) became a fixture in the Top 25 and won their first NCAA tournament game last year.
She also raised the level of interest in women's basketball within the state to a point where the home arena is regularly sold out and Sunday will host West Virginia (17-13) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
"It's been great for me, and I think the state of Delaware has had a fine ride with this also,'' Delle Donne said. "Me being a hometown girl, staying home, really competing and getting us on the national scene has been pretty awesome for the state. They've been behind us the whole way.''
None of this would have happened if Delle Donne stayed at UConn.
"She could be playing at Connecticut right now but that's not where her heart is,'' Blue Hens guard Lauren Carra said.
Delle Donne has the ability to drive to the basket, dominate the lane, pop a baseline jumper or nail a 3-pointer. She might have won a national championship or two with the Huskies, but doesn't think about what might have been because it could never top what ultimately occurred.
"This is the best decision of my life,'' Delle Donne said. "When I made the decision a while back and I was playing volleyball, I never would have thought I would be here at this time. But it's been the most amazing ride ever. I wouldn't change anything.
"I've just enjoyed playing this game that I've absolutely loved, meeting some awesome teammates that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. I've built bonds with my coaches that will last forever. It's far more than championships for me. We've been able to have our own little championships with the CAA. It's been a different challenge here, different than having to win the national title.''
The first obstacle Delle Donne had to overcome was the angst over abandoning UConn and the game of basketball.
"Elena did what society told her to: You're the No. 1 player, you should go to the No. 1 school,'' Martin said. "So she chose Connecticut, But bottom line, in her heart, she did not want to leave the state of Delaware.''