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Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Updated: August 25, 5:22 PM ET
Delle Donne's tumultuous season ends in triumph

By Chris Hansen
HoopGurlz.com

Elena Delle Donne
UConn-bound guard Elena Delle Donne averaged 31 points and 11 rebounds per game en route to winning ESPN HoopGurlz Player of the Year honors.
On the heels of its first All-American Team, ESPN HoopGurlz has selected its inaugural High School Player of the Year, Elena Delle Donne of Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Del.).

Much like the All-American Team criteria, an emphasis is on the player's senior season. The player's impact on her team's success and her entire body of work as a high school player are also factors.

Delle Donne was named the WBCA All-American Game MVP -- she scored 17 points with four assists, four rebounds and two steals -- for the red team in its 114-79 victory. The 6-foot-4 guard was also selected to play in the McDonald's All-American Game, is a Naismith Award winner and won a state championship (again).

ESPN HoopGurlz All-Americans

Elena Delle Donne wasn't alone in getting honored this award season. In conjunction with releasing its first Player of the Year Award, ESPN HoopGurlz named five girls high school basketball players to its inaugural All-American Team. Here's the lineup:
•  Jasmine Dixon, wing, Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)
•  Elena Delle Donne, guard, Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Del.)
•  Nneka Ogwumike, forward, Cy-Fair (Cypress, Texas)
•  Tierra Rogers, wing, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco)
•  Azania Stewar, center, Notre Dame Academy (Middleburg, Va.)

To read Glenn Nelson's story about the ESPN HoopGurlz All-American team click here

It is rare that a player could miss 10 games of the season and still win player of the year honors. But ignoring Delle Donne's impact on the game because of her bout with mononucleosis would be an injustice. She started the season's first game, a 51-28 win over Philadelphia's Archbishop Ryan, then missed the next 10 games. In that span, the Raiders went 4-6 -- including four straight losses at the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.

The final game in Phoenix was a 42-44 defeat at the hands Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.). How fitting it was that Delle Donne returned for the rematch against Christ the King on Jan. 18, a 57-37 victory. Her 38-point performance was all the dominating force the team needed to avenge its loss in the desert.

Conditioning was the biggest challenge for Delle Donne in her return. Still, only nine days later, she helped lead Ursuline over Archbishop Carroll (Radnor, Pa.), which spent much of the year ranked in the national top 25.

A week after Ursuline's win over Archbishop Carroll, the Connecticut commit's 25-point, 10-rebound and five-block effort spearheaded a win over Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Pa.). O'Hara finished the season 25-2 and ranked No.15 in the country by ESPN.com.

Elena Delle Donne and Jasmine Dixon
Delle Donne, pictured here battling fellow ESPN HopeGurlz All-American Jasmine Dixon for a rebound, showcased her all-around abilities during the '07-08 season.
With Delle Donne at the helm, Ursuline cruised to its fourth state championship in her five years as a Raider -- the first when she was just an eighth-grader. She averaged an impressive double-double with 31 points and 11 rebounds. With Delle Donne leading the way, the team was among the nation's elite.

"Other than the mono," Delle Donne said, "it was kind of a perfect season."

This season, the pressure of expectations took a new form. For years, Delle Donne has felt the critical eyes of basketball peers and pundits looking for any reason to knock her off the pedestal as the country's best player. In two separate games this past season, Delle Donne found herself playing in front of an assembly of UConn fans. Many Huskies fans made their way to Springfield College (Mass.) for her first game back. Ursuline also played a game against Manchester High School in Connecticut giving the UConn faithful another chance to see her in action.

Delle Donne admitted that she really wanted to impress the contingent of UConn fans traveling to see her play.

During her sparkling prep career, Delle Donne garnered a myriad of awards and championship trophies. She has also left her mark on the record books; she broke the Delaware scoring record by scoring her 2,415th point in the season's first game. She also holds the national record for consecutive free-throws made with 80.

Delle Donne continued to grow as a player during her final high school season. Early in her career, she was criticized for being exclusively a scorer. This season, her growth could be seen in the paint with her rebounding. She also found more success moving without the basketball -- a skill that is essential for success for a player who was triple-teamed every possession in high school and will face similar opposition in college.

As the sun sets on her incredible high school career, Delle Donne will prepare for the next challenge: getting Connecticut back to the Final Four to erase the pain of this season's loss to Stanford. Delle Donne's fantastic scoring abilities and basketball IQ will undoubtedly be a big factor in UConn's tournament run. She plans to enroll early and hit campus in Storrs, Conn., this summer.

For more in-depth coverage of girl's high-school basketball and women's college-basketball prospects, visit HoopGurlz.com