Former CAA WBB Standouts Excel Together In WNBA
Former CAA standouts Elena Delle Donne of Delaware and Tamera Young of James Madison are not only finding success in the WNBA this season, but they’re finding it together on the same team.
Both Delle Donne and Young, current members of the Chicago Sky, have had a large part in helping their team reach relatively new heights. The Sky has never reached the WNBA playoffs, but the team currently sits in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8 (14-4) record.
“It’s always more fun when you’re winning, you know?” said Young, who recently spoke with the CAA on Aug. 20 during a road game versus the Washington Mystics. “Not as stressful.”
Young, a 2008 JMU graduate and eighth overall pick of the Atlanta Dream in that summer’s WNBA Draft, has had one of her better pro seasons this year despite playing 17.7 minutes per game. She’s flourished with her ‘new-look’ Sky team, averaging 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest and is a solid defender.
“Hard work,” said Young when attributing her play this season. “Always had a knack for the gym, working out hard. I never wanted to be out-worked.
“I think Elena was almost like that missing puzzle piece we needed. She could play the 3 or the 4 and spread out where people can’t double-team Sylv (Sky teammate Sylvia Fowles) because they have to worry about her shooting the three. I think she added that piece that we were missing. With all the variety of weapons we have now I think everyone comes together.”
It’s been a little different for Delle Donne, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft and one of the WNBA’s most well-known rookie players. The Wilmington, Delaware, native leads the Sky in scoring (18.4 ppg) and averages 5.5 rebounds per game over 24 contests this season, all of which have been starts.
“I feel like once the [collegiate] season ended I was already getting drafted and moving to Chicago so everything happened extremely fast,” Delle Donne said. “But luckily, I have great teammates and a great coaching staff who have been there to help me along the way to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
In fact, one of the first things Delle Donne did after her name was called on draft night was speak with Young for some advice.
“After I was drafted, I spoke with her and a few teammates. So yeah, it was nice to have that CAA connection to make me feel more comfortable and to know that someone from the team had been through it and come through the CAA.”
The former Blue Hen, who graduated this past May, enjoyed a unique career at Delaware. She played volleyball for a year and then returned to the basketball court, after being the top recruit in women’s basketball coming out of high school. Delle Donne lifted the UD program to another level, helping the Hens reach the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in 2013 and earn back-to-back CAA titles. She left a large imprint on the CAA record book and departed as the conference’s all-time leading scorer, breaking a mark that Young once held.
While both players recognize the differences and similarities of their college careers, each can agree that the level of competition in the CAA prepared them better than most think. Since most of the top WNBA superstars come from the larger conferences, many of them didn’t have to deal with being the focus of opposing teams’ game plans each night.
“I’ve seen the same types of things that I faced when I was in school,” said Young, who watched Delle Donne play at UD this past season. “At that time, I was one of the top players in the conference so people had a bulls eye after me. Two, three [players] trying to guard me and it was a big difference. After you do that and you come here [WNBA], where it’s almost like one-on-one, I think it was the same for Elena. I think it’s less frustrating.”
Delle Donne won’t take the credit for Chicago’s recent success, but she’s excelled in the league as a first-year player. She was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month in June and July, and currently ranks in the league’s Top 5 categories for points (18.4 ppg, No. 3), free throw percentage (.913, No. 1) and three-point percentage (.487, No. 1). Plus, she became the first rookie to ever lead the WNBA in voting for the All-Star Game, receiving more than 35,000 tallies earlier this summer.
“People might doubt players coming out of the CAA,” said Delle Donne, “It’s a little bit where you want to prove yourself and prove that you can do it from a mid-major.”
“They’re [players from bigger conferences] more of the talk and you’re already the underdog so it’s like you have to put in that extra work ethic to get that extra attention and recognition,” said Young. “I think that carries over for the league because like I said, the competition is better so you already have that work ethic instilled in you as a player and I think that helps us more.”
When several CAA staff members made the trip to D.C. to catch up with the former league standouts, Chicago overcame a slow and sluggish first half and prevailed, 79-73, thanks in part to offensive contributions from Delle Donne and Young’s aggression on defense.
Delle Donne, who had missed the previous two games after suffering a mid-foot sprain on Aug. 13, surprised many by returning to the lineup on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-5 forward led all players with 24 points and eight rebounds and didn’t seem to miss a beat, despite playing with foul trouble throughout most of the contest. Young, on the other hand, consistently battled down low in the paint, finishing with four points and two boards.
Though the two never played against each other during their respective times in the CAA, the comparisons between Young and Delle Donne can certainly be made in terms of the impact they had in the league and how they’ve both carried that over to the highest level of professional women’s basketball.
Even now, each player respects where they came from and how they got to where they are.
“I was never able to coast in the CAA either,” Delle Donne said, “so I always had to play my hardest. That’s never changed. Every time I step on the floor I give 100 percent. It hasn’t been any different … In the CAA, I was able to face double- and triple-teams and face new defenses every single night. That definitely helped challenge me.”
When asked if there is any locker room talk of a CAA rivalry, Young smiled.
“We talk junk a little bit, not much. The other day I saw a lady at the airport and she had a JMU hoodie and said ‘oh, I graduated from James Madison in ’08 and Elena was like, ‘ehhh JMU’ … haha. Just little talk like that. It’s all in good fun. It’s still a JMU family for me.”