- Sarah Spain, Contributor, espnW.com
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CHICAGO -- Elena Delle Donne tried to explain the finer points of her home state of Delaware.
"Well, it's near everything …" said Delle Donne, the newest member of the Chicago Sky, as she sampled the local fare at Giordano's Pizza in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
"It's a half hour from Philly and an hour and a half from New York," her mother, Joan, added. She's in town helping Delle Donne move into her new apartment. "You have the New Jersey beaches not that far, which are awesome. You have the …"
"Come to Delaware!" Delle Donne interrupted, laughing. "As soon as you get here we'll go somewhere else cool nearby!"
"Wait, the flower market! We have the flower market every day!" Joan jumped back in, proudly. "And Joe Biden!"
Delle Donne laughed, realizing she hasn't exactly sold a trip to the "First State." She may not have a future at the Delaware Tourism Office, but she's fiercely loyal to her home state -- famously so, in fact.
She made headlines in 2008 when she left UConn after just two days on campus, leaving behind a scholarship to play for Geno Auriemma's famed basketball program. She went home and enrolled at the University of Delaware, chalking her return up to having been burned out on basketball. In fact, her freshman year she joined the volleyball team, instead.
The problem was actually homesickness, she missed her family and especially her special-needs sister, Lizzie; a year later she found her way back to the hardwood, joining the Blue Hens' basketball team in 2009.
Four years, 3,000-plus points and countless awards later, Delle Donne said she's grown up a lot and this time she's really ready to leave home.
Personal assistant Meghan McLean, a former teammate at Delaware, should help make Delle Donne's transition to Chicago a smooth one. McLean will not only organize Delle Donne's appearances, interviews, sponsorship responsibilities and more, she'll also be her roommate in the suburbs and her "wingwoman" in the city.
Both women say their friendship makes it easier for the assistant-athlete relationship to work.
"It works because she feels comfortable enough to tell me 'I don't wanna do that' about certain interviews and stuff," McLean explained.
They're a funny pair, often finishing each other sentences, especially when sharing stories from their many double dates in college.
"I'm the fastest eater you'll ever meet," McLean said. "We went out on a double date once and we all ordered salads. The salads came and I started eating. My salad was immediately gone and I looked up and the guys were still, like, mixing their dressing."
"So she kicks me," Delle Donne chimed in.
"So I kicked Elena under the table and stared at my empty plate," McLean said.
"And I looked at my plate and I was like 'I got you' and started eating as fast as I could," Delle Donne said with a laugh.
These two know a true friend shovels her food for you so you're not alone in the clean plate club. A true friend also helps her super-tall friend scout out men.
"It was always my job if she met a guy and he was sitting down, to ask him how tall he was," McLean explained. "Or when I would be out without her when she was in season [McLean graduated a year before Delle Donne], if I saw a tall guy I'd text her and try to get a picture of him."
The pair have an understanding: The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne gets "first dibs" on the tall guys.
"Oh yeah, they're mine," she said with a laugh.
McLean said it was a no-brainer to drive out to Chicago to live with Delle Donne and stay on as her assistant. "Chicago is a great place to move," she said, then paused. "I wouldn't have gone to Tulsa!"
Both girls were overjoyed when the Sky selected Delle Donne and set their plans for a move to the big city into motion. Delle Donne had traveled a bit with her family, but had never been to Chicago.
"I was shocked at how beautiful it is," she said, remembering her flight in the previous day. "Flying down and seeing the water! A city having water is crazy to me. I've always thought of big cities as dingy and dark and smoky, but it's a lot cleaner than New York."
The first text message Delle Donne sent McLean after landing was, "I wish you flew with us so you could see the view -- it's so beautiful."
"She was also asking me what body of water that was," McLean cracked.
"I knew it wasn't an ocean, but it looked too big to be a lake!" Delle Donne said sheepishly.
The meal was soon interrupted by a pair of pre-teen girls who approached, wondering why a TV crew was filming. They didn't recognize Delle Donne, but they said excitedly they hoped to come to a Sky game.
Tall and strikingly beautiful, with long blonde hair and a lean, willowy build, Delle Donne isn't likely to go unnoticed, even to those unfamiliar with her basketball skills. In fact, on her first day in Chicago, a cashier looked up at her and Joan (also quite tall) and blurted out, "What are you, Amazons?"
"No, we're monsters," she deadpanned.
A few fans had recognized her at Nike Town earlier, but her most notable Chicago encounter yet came right outside the store, just a few hours before dinner.
"They asked me [in the introductory news conference] today, 'Who did you look up to in the WNBA?' and I said 'Sheryl Swoopes, I always got her shoes,'" she said. "And then about an hour later we're on the corner in front of Nike Town and Sheryl pulls her car over and is yelling out the window, 'Hey, how are you enjoying Chicago?' People are honking at her and stuff. It was so funny."
Like so many girls of a certain age, Swoopes is Delle Donne's female idol, Michael Jordan her NBA hero.
"When I was young I was obsessed with Michael Jordan and the Bulls," she explained. "He's the only person I get starstruck over. I don't know what I'd do if I met him, I'd be in shock! That's my dream."
Chicago fans are likely to embrace their newest star even more knowing she's an MJ girl; she's even on the right side of the Jordan versus Kobe/LeBron debates.
"Nobody touches Jordan," she said, definitively. "I hate when they draw comparisons -- just, no. Just don't."
As a die-hard MJ fan, she crossed off a big Chicago bucket list item after dinner, heading to the Bulls-Nets game at the United Center, the house Jordan built. A few days later she checked off another one, throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game.
Delle Donne is focused on bringing new fans to the Sky and helping take the team to the postseason, but she's also determined to experience as much of Chicago as she can this summer.
Unlike many of the WNBA's top talent, she won't play abroad this year, choosing instead to spend her offseason at home golfing, running basketball camps and spending time with her family -- especially the new baby her brother and his wife are expecting in September.
"I still wanna have my life, have family time, do other things," she explained. After seeing how dominant she was while living a balanced life in Delaware, Sky fans should be happy to hear she plans to do more of the same in the pros.
When the pizza arrived -- a thick, gooey, cheesy, saucy, meaty, stuffed delight the likes of which Delle Donne and her Delaware brethren had never seen before -- the conversation stopped.
"Love it. I'm sold!" Delle Donne exclaimed after a few bites.
After just a few days, it seems she's already thinking the same about her new home.
16dBonnie D. Ford