Via Chicago Tribune
The gold medal was securely draped around her neck, but Elena Delle Donne kept fiddling with it, asking herself: Did this really happen?
“Yeah, I kept looking at it,” she said. “Is this real life? Oh, my goodness, somebody pinch me.”
It’s real, and so was the American dominance in this Olympic tournament.
All that’s left to debate, and it’s not worth the time, is whether U.S. coach Geno Auriemma was being genuine when he said after his team’s 101-72 blowout of Spain: “It wasn’t a cakewalk; it was a struggle. Because of our depth and experience, we were able to separate ourselves.”
Delle Donne helped provide the depth that resulted in 55 bench points, 32 more than the Spaniards.
The reigning MVP of the WNBA averages 34.1 minutes for the Sky, eight more than anyone else on the team. For Auriemma’s band of experienced superstars, she was a role player.
“Right from the beginning, she blended right in,” Auriemma said. “Everyone knows that Elena is one of the most talented players in the WNBA, but she had never really played internationally at this level; she’d only made one tour with (USA Basketball), to Spain.
“We talked a lot about expectation level, and we wanted to be able to trust her. Obviously you see the talent.”
The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne played 16 nearly flawless minutes Saturday, hitting all three field-goal attempts, including one off the glass after taking contact. She drew some oohs when she swatted a shot by Spain’s tall and talented Astou Nador.
Delle Donne scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and had two assists and no turnovers.
But asked for her favorite individual highlight, she replied: “A couple of those 3s Diana Taurasi was hitting. I just had to laugh and shake my head. I idolized her growing up, and to be able to play alongside her and see some of that craziness that I saw when I was a young kid falling in love with the game, that was really cool for me.”
Team USA assistant coach Doug Bruno, the head coach at DePaul, would have appreciated that line. A few minutes earlier, he had disclosed why he feels this team is so special: “For as talented as this group is, they are so selfless.”
Delle Donne, 26, had a nice hug for Bruno after the game. She walked off the floor with Maya Moore’s arm around her shoulder. While Tina Turner’s “(Simply) The Best” played in Carioca Arena 1, teammate Brittney Griner lifted her into the sky.
Told that the photo of that lift was making the rounds on social media, Delle Donne responded: “Oh, that’s sweet. This being our first Olympics, it really meant the world to us to share that moment together. Hopefully we’ll see some more.”
Said Griner: “I love playing with E. She’s amazing.”
Asked if the two would emerge as leaders over the next four years, Griner replied: “We’ll step into those roles, but there are definitely players in front of us. We just got our diapers off.”
Maybe, but the adult world beckons. Delle Donne figures she will get one day off once she returns to Chicago. Then it’s back to practice with the Sky, preparing for Friday’s home game against the Atlanta Dream.
Yes, the Dream awaits.
But the reality is even better.
“This,” she said of her gold medal, “is amazing.”