Impact 10:No. 6 Elena Delle Donne
Elena Delle Donne was one of the most talked-about women's basketball players in the country long before calendars flipped to 2013. What much of America finally had an opportunity to do this year was see what all the fuss was about.
It's safe to say we will be back for more.
Delle Donne followed another standout college season and a memorable postseason run with the University of Delaware by putting together one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the WNBA.
In the span of little more than six months, she led her home-state school to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history, upsetting mighty North Carolina along the way, then helped the Chicago Sky post the best record in the Eastern Conference and reach the WNBA playoffs for the first time in franchise history after she was selected with the second pick in the draft.
She averaged 26 points per game in her final college season, good for second in the nation. Her career scoring average of 26.7 points per game ranks second in NCAA history.
She finished fourth in the WNBA in scoring as a rookie and was the unanimous selection as the league's rookie of the year. Among the league's all-time rookie award winners, only Tamika Catchings, Seimone Augustus and Candace Parker averaged more points per game in their first seasons. None played on teams that won as many games as the Sky.
For the calendar year now coming to a close, Delle Donne's teams finished with a combined 48-13 record.
The season before she first took the court at Delaware, the Blue Hens went 15-15. The season before she arrived in the Windy City, the Sky went 14-20.
So, yes, it's nice to have the services of one of the most naturally gifted scorers the sport has ever seen. Finally seen, as the case may be.
For most of her time at Delaware, Delle Donne was as much folklore as fact unless you happened to live in the vicinity of a Colonial Athletic Association school. People knew the story of the wondrously talented kid who, burned out on basketball and separated from a sister, left Connecticut and left the sport, only to return to the court a year later in her home state. But all most fans really knew of her game were the eye-popping numbers that drifted like rumors out of Delaware.
In an age when we increasingly don't just watch big games but then watch videos of other people watching and reacting to those games, Delle Donne remained an unseen curiosity, a mystery.
It turned out the real thing was even better than the stories.
She scored 33 points in that second-round game against North Carolina in front of a capacity crowd inside Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center that included Vice President Joe Biden, then 33 more to give her a team a chance in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky.
She took the court for the first time in the WNBA in front of another national television audience and opposite the Phoenix Mercury and Brittney Griner, the player selected ahead of her in the draft. Delle Donne scored 22 points in a commanding win. And the points kept coming, her effortless 3-point stroke, jumpers off the dribble and body control to get to the line befuddling professional defenders just as they did players from Hofstra and UNC-Wilmington.
"It's unbelievable to see how much she's grown," older brother Gene Delle Donne said in March of the maturation that produced the player we now see. "She was an 18-year-old girl and now she's a 23-year-old woman. It's just great to see that basketball has now been back in her life. It was her life. It's awesome for me to see that smile on her face, with her team."
Look at All-Star voting (even if an injury left her unable to play). Look at attendance in Chicago. Look at her growing Twitter following.
People finally got to see Delle Donne this year. And she was everything they had heard she would be.