Elena Delle Donne leads Mystics to road win in first trip back to Chicago

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Thursday, May 25, 2017

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Elena Delle Donne's return to face the Chicago Sky on Wednesday wasn't a prime-time affair -- which, she acknowledged, was probably for the best.

The game started at 11:30 a.m. local time for student day. The kids that made up most of the crowd at Allstate Arena were excited about singing along to the songs played on the speaker system and seeing themselves broadcast on the Jumbotron.

In other words, not exactly a hostile environment for Delle Donne to come back to. If there are Sky fans upset about her lobbying to be traded to Washington, they might have been busy at work.

"Flying here, getting to the arena, it almost felt like it was a whole different lifetime," Delle Donne said of her Sky career. "Not just last year. It's weird how things change, and you move on. But when you go back to a place you made home for four years, it can be kind of an odd, eerie feeling."

She couldn't help but feel nerves getting ready for the game. Was she worried about possibly getting negative feedback from the fans?

"I was thinking I might, but I probably got lucky it was [student day]," Delle Donne said. "The kids will cheer for anything. But there were some really great fans who I saw a lot when I was playing here. They were really sweet; I gave them hugs."

Then she proceeded to lead her new team in beating her former one. Delle Donne had 21 points and eight rebounds as the Mystics won 82-67, evening their record at 2-2.

Washington coach Mike Thibault joked that the team has been on a "reunion tour," with three Mystics players returning to a place they played previously. Kristi Toliver went back to Los Angeles on Thursday, Krystal Thomas to Seattle on Sunday, and Delle Donne to Chicago on Wednesday. The most emotional of those was for Toliver, who got her 2016 WNBA championship ring as she went back to face the Sparks, whom she'd been with for seven years.

Toliver started her career with the Sky in 2009 -- talk about another lifetime ago -- but Delle Donne had an identity in Chicago that isn't the easiest thing for the Sky organization to move past.

She was the No. 2 draft pick in 2013 and WNBA Rookie of the Year that season. She immediately became the Sky's signature player. But that's water under the bridge now.

Delle Donne said she's very happy in Washington. Yes, she's maintained some "Chicago" aspects of her life. For instance, she's still a Cubs fan and she hasn't changed her dog Wrigley's name to Bryce or anything like that. Overall, it's been a pretty smooth transition for her.

"It's been everything I was looking for," Delle Donne said. "I'm really happy with this team, and I feel like we can really progress. Not getting our first two road wins [in L.A. and Seattle], we really needed one."

Delle Donne said the Mystics' different offensive style is taking a little time to get used to, but she likes it.

"We really don't have quick-hitters, whereas teams I've been on before, we've run tons of them," Delle Donne said. "We're trying to play more position-less basketball and make reads, which is difficult at first because we haven't been playing together very long. But I think once we get that going, it could be really good."

For the next month or so, the Mystics will lose forward Emma Meesseman, who left after Wednesday's game to join the Belgian national team as it prepares for June's EuroBasket tournament. Meesseman had four points and five rebounds Wednesday, and the Mystics anticipate her and Delle Donne playing very well together and taking pressure off each other.

While Meesseman is gone, Delle Donne will be learning more about the Mystics' defensive system, along with her offensive adjustments.

"It's a different challenge," Delle Donne said of getting a handle on what the Mystics need from her. "I've been really working on passing off the dribble quickly, things like that. It's been fun, and the coaches are pushing me."

Thibault didn't say much to Delle Donne beforehand about the emotional aspect of Wednesday's game; he knew she'd have some butterflies. But she had relaxed by the second half. Her first trip back to Chicago ended with a victory and a sense of relief.

"Now that this one's out of the way," Delle Donne said, "it will never feel this weird again."

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