By Ryan McCarthy
Little Rock, Ark. — Whenever Elena Delle Donne is mentioned in the same sentence as Lauren Jackson you know it’s because she is a once-in-a-generation type of talent.
An Australia native, Jackson has lit up the WNBA for the past decade earning three WNBA MVP awards and two championship titles with the Seattle Storm.
Jackson has a silky smooth release of a pure shooter, with fundamental footwork, while standing at a towering 6-foot-6.
That’s exactly why Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson mentioned Jackson on Sunday night in the postgame press conference when she was asked about Delle Donne.
Although Delle Donne is the nation’s leading scorer with 27.9 points per game, Henrickson realizes that Kansas can’t change its entire season strategy one day before the biggest game of the season.
“You’ve really got to be careful,” Henrickson said. “And you can’t lose sight of who you are.”
Jackson and Delle Donne show similarities in physical attributes, but the two play basketball with distinctive styles of their own.
Jackson is a true post player, who uses her length to score the basketball underneath. But over the years she’s relied more on stepping out and knocking down a three when necessary.
Some compare Delle Donne to another women’s superstar former Los Angeles Sparks player Lisa Leslie. Like Jackson, she developed her outside game later in her career.
But Delle Donne’s different. Many describe her as a guard in a post player’s body. She can dribble with the guards and play all five positions on the court.
Delle Donne from other players separates herself from others because of her fearlessness from three-point range. This season she’s at 42.1 percent from long-range.
In her three years as a Blue Hen, Delle Donne has drained 163 three pointers. That number broke the Delaware career record held by Megan Dellegrott earlier in this postseason.
The native of Wilmington Del. presents some of the qualities that Leslie and Jackson illustrate, bust she likes to think there are distinctions also.
“It’s the versatility about my game that draws some of those comparisons,” Delle Donne said. “Being 6-5 and being able to bring the ball up the court and having guard skills while also being able to go inside and use some post moves.”
Along with averaging the most points in the NCAA, Delle Done also grabs 10.3 rebounds per game. She’s a force inside as well on the defensive end with 2.6 blocks per game.
The other aspect that makes Delle Donne a lethal scorer, and an even tougher guard is her free throw percentage. She’s seventh in the nation with 89.4 percent from the stripe.
Some other comparisons thrown around for Delle Donne include Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki on the NBA side.
Long and lanky, Durant can knock down the open outside shot, while Nowitzki pulls off difficult off-balance baskets.
Delle Donne even received a tweet from one of the NBA players after the Blue Hens 73-42 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock.
“Kevin Durant tweeted me, I almost had a heart attack,” she said with a laugh.
Delle Donne was not always planning on playing at Delaware. It’s been quite the road for her to get to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
She committed to the University of Connecticut after being the highest recruited player in the country in 2008. However, she left two days after arriving on campus because she wanted to be closer to her family.
Especially her older sister Lizzie who is blind and deaf and has autism and cerebral palsy.
“She’s my angel and my motivation,” Delle Donne said to the New York Times in a story that ran on March 18. “She’s everything to me.”
After enrolling in Delaware in the fall semester, Delle Donne decided to play volleyball for Delaware and take a break from basketball, something she’d been doing since she in six-years-old.
She succeeded for the Blue Hens making the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie Team and helping them to the NCAA Tournament.
But after a season with volleyball she returned to her true love of basketball.
In her freshman year she impressed women’s basketball followers with a freshman season that included the first All-American in Delaware history, Associated Press Third Team and one of the 20 finalists for the Wooden National Player of the Year Award.
Sophomore year looked like she would be on a similar path to contend for All-American honors, but she missed 11 games because of Lyme disease. But when she returned she picked up right where she left off averaging 25.3 points while leading Delaware to the WNIT.
In 2012, she’s led the Blue Hens to a 31-1 record and remains in the running for National Player of the Year along with Baylor junior forward Brittney Griner and Stanford senior forward Nneka Ogwumike.
Delle Donne has become one of the media darlings for the NCAA Tournament, but at this point she thinks another win for the program is more important than personal national attention.
“It’s very exciting for what’s going on for this entire team,” Delle Done said. “We definitely have a lot of attention on us now after having that first game on ESPN, so we’re soaking it in but we’re focused.”
“All that attention is great, but we’re here to win basketball games and that’s really all that matters.”
Still Delle Donne might be going up against one of her more athletic match-ups of the year with Kansas senior forward Aishah Sutherland. Although Sutherland stands three inches shorter than Delle Donne’s, Sutherland is still confident in her abilities.
“I’m going to go out there and defend the same way I’ve been defending all year,” Sutherland said. “We’re going to go out there and play hard and play with the team and just play together, that’s what we need to do.”
This battle of Sutherland and Delle Donne will be the focus of much Tuesday night with two potential WNBA players who could one day be on the level of Jackson and Leslie.
— Edited by Hannah Wise and Max Rothman, originally published Monday, March 19, on kansan.com