On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, Elena Delle Donne returned to her home state of Delaware, along with the rest of the United States women’s national basketball team, to play an exhibition Olympic tune-up game against France. As a Delaware student, I jumped at the opportunity to attend this game to support the former Blue Hen.

The return to Delaware

I arrive in Newark, Del. and enter my apartment for the first time, a place I will enter again in one month when I start my junior year at the university. I walk past Memorial Hall on the Green relishing the beauty that is the University of Delaware’s campus.

I walk down Main Street passing a few familiar faces, but mostly see Newark residents enjoying the beautiful weather. I wonder if any of these people are going to the big game tonight. I reconnect with a few friends, all the while getting that giddy and excited feeling in my stomach because I’m back home and back in one of my favorite places in the world.

But, there also happens to be another very coveted person returning to this small town on this day; one who has been gone for a little longer than I have. Her name is Elena Delle Donne. Have you heard of her? As a Delaware student and resident, Delle Donne is to UD what Stephen Curry is to Davidson. Of course, we also have Joe Biden, Joe Flacco and several others, but as of late, Delle Donne is arguably the most famous and accomplished graduate that our university has.

Delle Donne is returning to the Bob Carpenter Center with not just Ursuline, Delaware or Chicago Sky written across her chest, but with the three most-important letters of all: U-S-A. The Olympics is something that Elena Delle Donne has been working toward her entire life, and she gets to prepare for the pinnacle moment of her career right on her home court, in front of family, friends, fans and Delaware students, like me.

USA vs. France

A smile beams across my face when the team comes running out of the locker room and the crowd erupts. Delle Donne waves to the audience with both hands expressing her gratitude to the sold-out crowd. There is a faint chant of her name that is drowned out from the loudness of the cheers.

Although this moment must be incredibly emotional for her, Delle Donne appears extremely focused in warmups. She’s chewing on her gum and calmly draining her shots just like she did hundreds of times on this court as a Blue Hen.

Scanning the crowd, there are so many people with Chicago Sky No. 11 jerseys, and even more with University of Delaware apparel. For Delaware residents, this is even more special because their state doesn’t have professional teams in any sport. These are their sporting events, and the pride follows suit. Delle Donne making it onto the Olympic team is something that is almost unheard of from the small state of Delaware. She is quite simply a hometown hero, and the crowd will do everything in its power to make sure she knows it.

Delle Donne takes the microphone and addresses the anticipating crowd. “This atmosphere puts me at a loss of words. Let’s make the Bob go crazy,” she says. Although it becomes very clear that the crowd doesn’t need any encouragement to make noise throughout the game.

The crowd erupts before she even touches the floor in game-time action. While the team’s roster is announced, the building practically shakes as the announcer calls her name. When she is announced as a starter, the fans continue to go wild. Some of the people in attendance have been supporting her as a basketball player since she was in the eighth grade, and pride is resounding throughout the crowd.

When she attempts and makes her first three-pointer, the crowd is on its feet, arms up in the air and I have chills. People are yelling, “I love you Elena!” and it was in that moment that I realized she was truly inspiring a whole generation of women in basketball, and women in sports.

She is greeted with a standing ovation when she is subbed out of the game with about 40 seconds left in the first quarter. Fans in the crowd are holding up signs with her name on them, including one that says, “US Olympian #11 DE Proud.”

On the bench, she is chatting alongside Maya Moore, but all the while keeping a strong watch on the game. It seems to me that she hasn’t yet been able to even absorb the scope of this crowd and moment.

Every time Delle Donne touches or comes near the ball, the volume in the arena is amplified. The draw of fans at the Bob is clearly for her, but her teammates are undoubtedly eating up the energy. A chant of “USA” ensues and it brings this game into perspective. These women are traveling to the Olympics in under a week to try and bring home a gold medal for their country; something that is so much bigger than themselves.

With about six minutes left in the game, the crowd starts yelling to Geno Auriemma, “We want Elena!” and “Put Elena in!” Their pleas are granted with just over four minutes left in the contest, as Delle Donne scurries over to the table to be subbed in. The excitement is building and peaks right when she steps on the floor. There is a dramatic sigh when she misses a pull up three-pointer, but her 10-point performance is capped off with a fierce drive to the basket for a three-point play opportunity. This play is enough to keep the crowd excited all the way through the final whistle.

There is another standing ovation for Delle Donne, and she scans the crowd one last time taking in this electric environment. After the game, she comments that this was by far the most emotional game she has ever played in at the Bob. “To see faces that have gone along with me in this entire journey, and now see me in a USA Jersey, which has been my dream my entire life, it was so special to come out and share that with them as well.”

More than just a game

After the game, fans gather in the corner of the court, and some are rewarded with a high-five from their idol. Many others are waiting to see if she will return to the court after the press conference. Although notified she will not be returning, the disappointed looks of fans fade at the realization that they were just treated to a performance by Delle Donne en route to the Olympics.

Delle Donne is inspiring generations of young girls and boys to follow their dreams. She is living proof that you can make it in women’s basketball without going to the UConns or Stanfords of the world. She is the face of Delaware athletics. She is the face of women’s basketball. This is not only a dream come true for her, but also for Delaware fans.

“I’m not here to just represent myself, or the team,” Delle Donne said after the exhibition. “We’re really representing everybody, trying to make this dream come true for everyone.”

And for this fan, she is doing just that.