As the 2015 WNBA MVP and recipient of the 2015 Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, Elena Delle Donne has found success both on and off the court.
Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall and often wearing her signature compression tights, the 26-year-old Chicago Sky guard/forward has a history of following her heart and getting results, even when it takes her off the beaten path.
Delle Donne made headlines in 2008 when she gave up her full basketball scholarship to the University of Connecticut. She chose to attend the University of Delaware so that she could remain close to her family, especially her older sister Lizzie, who is blind, deaf, and has cerebral palsy. The move didn’t stop her from breaking records and earning accolades throughout her NCAA career, nor from becoming the No. 2 WNBA draft pick in 2013.
Now, Delle Donne is a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, as well as the founder of the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation and the Delle Donne Academy basketball camp for girls. Not to mention, she’s coming off her best season in the WNBA, posting 23.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
We got the chance to sit down with Delle Donne to discuss how she balances her basketball success with her passion projects and tapped her for her must-have gear.
What’s a typical day like for you when you’re training and practicing?
“I wake up in the morning, have a good breakfast, and get myself to the gym. I usually lift first and then do some sort of conditioning. After that, I usually do yoga to help with my core strength. Basketball comes later on in the day. If I’m going to be tired doing something, it’s the basketball part. When I’m playing a game, I’m usually always tired, so I like to practice in a fatigued state.”
What is one piece of gear you can’t live without?
“When I’m playing, I wear three-fourths compression tights to keep me warm. I don’t like to play without them at all. It’s something I started in college and I just have to wear them. Nike training gear is awesome for that.”
How do you balance grinding it out day-in and day-out, while keeping longer-term goals in mind?”
“The biggest thing is to surround yourself with really great people who are going to help you achieve those goals. I can’t push myself to that ultimate level every day, but I have people in my life who help me to get there.”
What’s your advice for high school basketball players who want to make it to your level or even just make it to a championship game one day?
“The first thing is to remember that you are a student athlete. Student comes first, and if you’re not taking care of business in the classroom, you’re not going to make it on the court.
The other thing is to be passionate about whatever you’re doing—whether it’s basketball or something else. If you’re passionate about something, you can take yourself to new heights that you never thought you could achieve. Your heart has got to be behind your goal in order to achieve greatness.”
What do you like to do outside of playing basketball?
“I have a huge Great Dane. He’s like my little boy. I always take him to the dog beach and it’s just nice. He doesn’t talk to me about basketball—it’s fun to get away from it. I think it’s so important to develop yourself and be a whole person. Basketball is a huge part of my life, but it isn’t everything. If I fail in basketball, my life doesn’t come crumbling down because I’m far more than just a basketball player.”
As an athlete, there is a short timespan that you are going to perform at the level that you do. What are your aspirations for the rest of your career?
“I just love working with the youth, and obviously I want to continue being involved in basketball. Even in my off-season, I run basketball camps. I don’t think basketball will ever leave my life, and that’s a way I can always stay involved.”
We believe sports matter and make people better. How have sports made a difference in your life?
“Sports have given me a spotlight to reach so many more people than I’d ever be able to reach if I was doing something else. That’s what’s so special about sports. They really give you a platform to do something special—to do things you care about and reach out to people. When you reach out to people, they listen. I take a lot of pride in that and just try to be a great role model.”