UNCASVILLE — She didn't get the biggest ovation during the visiting team's introductions. Swin Cash did. Then again, Elena Delle Donne didn't hit the newsstands nationwide Friday sans, well, sans Chicago Sky uniform in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue.
Swin Cash did.
Yes, there's a difference between wowing everyone by being fit and wowing everyone by fitting in, and Delle Donne has done the latter with remarkable ease this summer.
"Elena is very talented, but she's still very eager to learn," Cash, the former UConn star, said before the Sky smoked the Sun 83-70 at Mohegan Sun Arena. "She's always asking questions. She always wants to do what's right. You love that mentality from a young player with so much talent and potential.
"She's really a lovable person. She's a sweetheart. She's fun-spirited."
There's a thin line between Dirk Nowitzki and being too slow in elite competition. In her rookie season, Delle Donne has clearly proved she is on the right side of that line. After being the biggest thing this side of DuPont in Delaware and promoted wall-to-wall as one of the WNBA's "3 To See," there also was the question how Delle Donne would fit in with the Sky, now 10-4.
Like a freakin' glove. That's how.
There are games when it's not entirely clear what position she is playing … guard, forward, some hybrid. This much is sure: . She's already a terrific pro. Yes, rookie of the year above Brittney Griner if the vote were today.
"She has a unique skill set, much like Lauren Jackson, where she's capable at 6-5 of playing effectively at the three point line or back to the basket," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "She's playing with [center] Sylvia Fowles and [guard] Epiphanny Prince. She is sandwiched between two great players. She landed in a perfect situation. You look at the other two [Griner and Skylar Diggins], and they didn't quite find the same niche. Elena has done a tremendous job. She never gets flustered."
Look to her brain, Sky coach Pokey Chatman said.
"Elena's playing multiple positions, guarding the 3, 4 and occasionally 5, and also playing that position [on offense]. That's a lot of reads. You play three positions. We're running 40 different things. That's 120 things to remember. She has a nice poise. She'll tell you she has gotten a lot of help from her teammates. Mainly, Swin Cash. Swin's a veteran, she sees it happen before it happens.
"People see the superstar skill set and then they are kind of taken aback. She's wonderful. She's just one of the girls. That bodes well for her coming into a team. At this level, they respect your game and everything else is a bonus. She has all the bonus areas, because she's a good teammate."
Chatman talked about going to Phoenix in the opener, Delle Donne recognizing a switch and immediately heading to the perimeter. When the Mercury adjusted in the second half, she immediately readjusted.
"That's called basketball IQ," Chatman said. "Adapting to the pace is a question for anyone coming in, so you don't want to put it out there that it's so different with her. With her skill set, she's a little bit like Kevin Durant, her handle, her brain and her balance. She thinks fast."
Delle Donne currently is leading the All-Star voting, something she calls surprising, "awesome" and "humbling." And while she's obviously not the best player in the WNBA, she is fourth in the league at 19.1 points a game. In the opener, the Mercury tried a post player on Delle Donne. She scored 22. Seeing that, Donovan tried a guard on her at Chicago. She scored 20. On Friday night, Donovan used bigger players like Kelsey Griffin. Delle Donne had 23, with two threes and 9-for-9 free throw shooting
"It has been in a challenge in that I'm not so used to single coverage," Delle Donne said. "A lot of times I was rushing shots or rushing a move. It was making me miss shots. There's still a big learning process, passing the ball to people who might have a better shot than I do. At Delaware, I would take any shot and that was OK. But not here; you've got to make the right read.
"My role can change game to game and sometimes in midgame. There have been games where I have struggled and my teammates have picked me up. They have really helped me."
Leaving UConn after a couple of days in the summer of 2008 before taking a year off and playing volleyball for Delaware, it is all in the rearview mirror. If there are any regrets, she certainly doesn't voice them.
"It really couldn't have gone any better," Delle Donne said. "I'm thrilled with my decision and the way everything has turned out. As a player and a person it helped me grow up a lot, be comfortable in my shoes and realize you don't always have to do what everybody else wants you do. You can figure out your own path and it can still work out in the end."
Delle Donne admitted she was a little apprehensive before the Bridgeport NCAA regional about how UConn fans would receive her, and she was thrilled at the welcome. There wasn't a boo to be heard during introductions Friday night.