It was a severe case of homesickness and not burnout that drove Elena Delle Donne, Wilmington's acclaimed women's basketball star, away from powerful Connecticut 12 months ago.
Delle Donne, the 2008 national high school player of the year, talked about the saga yesterday from her home after the announcement that she now will play college basketball at the nearby University of Delaware this fall.
The Ursuline Academy graduate will have four years of eligibility at Delaware and will receive coach Tina Martin's last available scholarship, effective Sept. 1.
"I'm happy for Elena," Martin said from Hilton Head Island, S.C., where the Colonial Athletic Association is holding its spring meetings.
"It's great for Delaware; it's great for the CAA. But for now, there is going to be a period of adjustment as she gets back to basketball, and we're going to take this one day at a time."
The versatile 6-foot-4 player is already a Delaware athlete, having joined the Blue Hens' volleyball team in late August after spurning UConn, which went 39-0 en route to winning its sixth national championship in April.
"I know I said it was burnout and I blamed it all on basketball and that I hated basketball. But in reality, I was really homesick," said Delle Donne, who is part of a close-knit family.
"I wish her the best now and in the future," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma told the Harford Courant yesterday morning.
In volleyball, a sport she took up her senior year in high school, Delle Donne helped Delaware repeat as CAA champions and was named to the conference's all-rookie team. She did not have a scholarship because of NCAA eligibility rules.
"After playing volleyball for a season, I realized again how much I enjoyed being a college athlete," she said.
Delle Donne could quickly elevate a Delaware basketball program that struggled to records of 7-24 in 2007-08 and 15-15 this past season. The Blue Hens had averaged 23 wins over eight previous seasons beginning in 1999-2000.
It was a year ago this week that Delle Donne bolted from the Huskies' campus in the middle of the night and returned home less than 48 hours after arriving to start summer school in Storrs.
Her parents weren't even aware she had left UConn until she knocked on the door at 7 the following morning.
Delle Donne caught the eye of college coaches at an early age because of her talents, which drew comparisons to some of the all-time greats of the sport.
"Ever since [North Carolina coach] Sylvia Hatchell first offered me a scholarship when I was in the seventh grade, I knew that one day I would have to leave home," Delle Donne said.
In September 2007, Delle Donne announced her choice of Connecticut, choosing the Huskies from among a group of finalists that included Tennessee, Villanova, and Middle Tennessee, where her brother Gene plays football.
"I think if UConn was located 10 minutes from my house, I might have done OK there," she said. "They have a tremendous coach and really great players.
"But Coach Martin is terrific, and I've already met most of my new teammates and I really like them."
Delaware fans will have to wait for Delle Donne's first home appearance, which won't be until Dec. 11 against Navy at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The Blue Hens will open the 2009-10 season with seven road games, beginning at St. Francis (Pa.) on Nov. 17.