- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2017

There was a time a couple weeks ago when the Washington Mystics weren’t sure Elena Delle Donne was going to be come to the District. The Chicago Sky was set on receiving three pieces for the 2015 MVP, a woman who has played in the Olympics, made multiple All-Star Games and whose nearby Delaware roots had pumped attendance figures when she visited.

Washington had to figure out what it was willing to give for such a shiny prize. Each side moved into the stalemate, then stopped talking for about 48 hours. The Mystics determined what their hefty commitment would be — a former All-Star, last year’s No. 7 overall pick, this season’s second overall pick — and Chicago accepted. Della Donne can now pack.

“The season truly can’t come soon enough,” Delle Donne said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

What the Mystics sent to Chicago to complete one of the biggest trades in league history was significant. Stefanie Dolson has been an all-star. Kahleah Copper was a top-10 pick last season that the Mystics view as a future star in the league, though she has significant work to get there. The second overall pick in this year’s draft is can yield another star to influence the ultimate view of the sign-and-trade deal that acquired Della Donne.

In return, Delle Donne, a former University of Delaware star, comes to Washington and tilts the power in WNBA. The Mystics were 13-21 last season. Della Donne’s presence allows coach and general manager Mike Thibault to move toward his preferred approach of “position-less” basketball. He said he has spent weeks dreaming about Delle Donne on one side and Emma Meesseman, a 6-foot-4 center who adeptly shoots 3-pointers, on the other side. Delle Donne’s versatility gives Thibault a trove of options.

“I’ve awaken in the middle of the night several times in the last week with offensive ideas in my head,” Thibault said. “It’s a unique situation. She takes pressure off everybody else, she can raise their level, and as she and I talked a while back, they can also do the same for her.”

Delle Donne has averaged 20.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game over her four-year career and has led her team to the playoffs each year, including a trip to the WNBA Finals in 2014. She averaged a career-best 23.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game on her way to being named the league’s MVP and earning All-WNBA first team honors in 2015. Last season, she averaged 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 28 games.

She had also expressed a desire to be closer to home now and in the past. Delle Donne was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and played college basketball for Delaware after abruptly leaving powerhouse Connecticut just two days after starting the summer program in Storrs. Her older sister, Lizzie, is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy and can only communicate through touch and smell. A preference to be near her and her family influenced Delle Donne’s college decision and carried weight in this one, too.

“My entire family is super excited,” Delle Donne said. “Aunts, uncles, everybody’s thrilled, so, I think they’ll be at a lot of games. Having Lizzie this close by is so great. As many know, I can’t just call her, I can’t FaceTime her, I can’t just pick up the phone and talk to her. Now that I am in such close proximity to her, I’ll be able to see her a lot throughout the summer and I’m even hoping to get her to a game because she hasn’t been to one of my professional games because it’s just too hard to travel around with her. I’m just really excited to have that moment and be able to share it with her in D.C.”

Delle Donne has another dream on top of that one. Her arrival in Washington is expected to catapult the Mystics into contenders for the WNBA title. The team expects to make more moves — free agency opened Wednesday — to complete this summer’s roster. After that, Delle Donne is planning on coming to Washington a couple weeks before camp starts to begin work at her second professional home.

“I’m going to work my absolute hardest,” Delle Donne said. “Obviously, it’s a goal of mine to bring a championship to this incredible city. I’d be lying if I said I had not thought of that and dreamt of that.”

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