Elena Delle Donne returning in 2012-13

Updated: February 3, 2012, 11:03 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

This year's senior class in women's basketball is not considered all that strong in terms of WNBA potential. Thus, the rumor mill has churned in regard to any underclass players who would qualify to declare for the 2012 draft. Delaware's Elena Delle Donne is one of them.

She's a junior in basketball. But she has been in college four years -- having played volleyball her academic freshman season -- and she technically could opt to leave after this season and enter the draft, in which she would be a huge prize.

But she emphatically states that is not going to happen.

"I know it's a lot of fun for people to chat about, but I can tell you this Blue Hen will be here next year," Delle Donne said during a phone interview Wednesday. "I will be back. I love it way too much to leave early. I am having fun here, and I'm able to keep improving and getting stronger. I want to enjoy this.

[+] EnlargeDelaware Huddle
Courtesy of Mark CampbellElena Delle Donne leads the nation in scoring, but Delaware's success this season also can be attributed to the roster staying mostly healthy -- something lacking in recent seasons.

"My teammates know I'm staying. As much as my family and being nearby was a big part of why I came here and want to be here, this basketball team is my family also. And I'm not ready to leave them, either."

Delle Donne is a 6-foot-5 forward/guard who leads Division I women's hoops in scoring at 28.4 points per game. She averaged 25.3 points last season.

Delle Donne had a specific goal during this past summer of what she wanted to improve for her junior season.

"It wasn't anything physical; it was becoming a vocal leader," Delle Donne said. "It was the biggest thing I needed to work on, and coach [Tina] Martin and I had talked about it.

"She had told me, 'You're more confident, your teammates trust in you. If you can become more vocal out there, I think it can help us go to another level.'"

Delle Donne is by nature friendly and soft-hearted. She never wants to hurt anyone's feelings or be stern with them.

"We've kind of done the good-cop/bad-cop thing," she said, laughing. "My other captains (Chelsea Craig and Vanessa Kabongo) help out, because they'll be the bad cops and I can stay the good cop.

"There are ways to do it where you don't degrade or berate anybody. It's just about finding ways to motivate your teammates and help them do their best."

It's also something she worked on as the leading scorer (15.7 ppg) and rebounder (8.5 rpg) for the U.S. team that won the World University Games gold medal in China this past August. She played for Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, who called working with Delle Donne "one of the highlights of my career."

"Her skills sets were perfect for the way we like to play, and her versatility allowed our staff great flexibility," Fennelly said. "Elena was engaged from day one and took to coaching willingly. Her attitude and work ethic matched her skills.

"Players respect good players, and immediately all the kids knew Elena was one of the best players on the team and would impact our chances for a gold medal. She started every game, and what she did on the floor showed everyone her desire to win and do what she could for the team."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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