By Rich Mayor | Chicago Tribune
Meeting your idol is one thing. Hugging her, asking her questions, taking selfies with her and walking down a makeshift catwalk as she judges is quite another.
Marshall, Simeon and Young’s girls basketball teams were able to do just that Friday at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Lincoln Park, at a Nike event featuring Sky star and reigning WNBA most valuable player Elena Delle Donne.
Some players had no clue Delle Donne would be at the event; others managed to piece together context clues about an event that started as a fashion show. When the 6-foot-5 forward walked down the runway with minimal warning, the metaphorical roof blew off.
“You can’t tell by (the players’) emotions now, but I saw them when she came in,” Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters said afterward. “That was real, genuine excitement they expressed.”
Delle Donne, 26, averaged 23.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in the 2015 season, while shooting .460 from the field and .950 from the free-throw line. Delle Donne, who received 38 of the 39 first-place MVP votes, is first Sky player to win the award.
The players in attendance could basically recite her stats.
Marshall senior Keshunda Williams was “amazed” being in the presence of the MVP. She sees the NBA as “rigged,” so only watches the WNBA. Williams laments Delle Donne not being around 10 years ago — expressing jealousy of current grade-schoolers — since a Chicago-based role model would’ve inspired her even more as a young player.
“I think it’s the most important thing I can do, is inspire the younger athletes coming up,” Delle Donne said. “I remember, luckily, when I started playing I had the WNBA to look up to. It’s so important to have something you can really dream about, a goal that you can hope to attain. Hopefully being around them and talking with them will help motivate them more, whatever their dreams are.”
Delle Donne returns home to Delaware on Monday. After playing in Chicago for three seasons, she “certainly” considers it a second home, pointing to Lincoln Park as her favorite area, despite moving homes a few times in her Sky career.
Meanwhile her stock as a player, a local icon and Nike spokesperson continues to grow.
“Even with this clothing line, it just shows how much more she wants to do,” Simeon’s Daija Mosley said. ” She wants to go further than just basketball, you know? She tries to inspire others, and that’s a great thing for us.”
The Sky traded for Marshall graduate Cappie Pondexter, Ms. Basketball of Illinois in both 2000 and 2001, prior to the 2015 season. The 32-year-old’s presence increased the Public League’s already prodigious focus on the Sky. Gaters was sure to organize multiple team trips this season to see the Sky, who lost in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“She epitomizes what we hope these kids aspire to do, which is be the best you can be,” Gaters said. “For most kids, they don’t want to do anything extra. But you see this young lady, she’s probably the best basketball player in the world. She’s an example of what to look to.”