TAMPA — Elena Delle Donne understands how high the bar has been set for impact freshmen on Connecticut's women's basketball team.
As the Huskies return to the Final Four for the first time in four years, a promising part of UConn's future is also here, as the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne headlines the WBCA High School All-America Game at 4:30 today at the USF Sun Dome.
"She's definitely one of those chosen few. She can do it all," said Gary Glasscock, who helped select the WBCA's 20 players and is a coach for the Delle Donne-led Red team. "When you see a girl that big, you think, 'She's just a post player,' but she can do all kinds of things. She's very versatile and ranks up there with the best, if not as the best, in the country."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has had two amazing freshmen in the past two years, with 6-4 center Tina Charles earning national freshman of the year honors two years ago, only to see a bigger debut from 6-foot forward Maya Moore, the first freshman ever named Big East player of the year and a first-team All-American.
"I'm not going to try to compare myself to those girls. They've done incredibly well," said Delle Donne, a guard/forward who averaged 30 points for Ursuline Academy in Delaware. "I'll do my best to do whatever Geno asks."
For all the acclaim she has gotten as a consensus national player of the year, Delle Donne is still just a humble Huskies fan this weekend, unsure as to whether she'll be able to see her future teammates.
"I haven't been bugging them," she said, wearing a pair of Huskies basketball shorts Friday after arriving in Tampa. "Here and there I'll text them, but they're busy right now."
Delle Donne (pronounced dell-ah don) isn't the only future Huskies star in the WBCA game, as Tiffany Hayes, a 6-foot forward from Winter Haven, is also playing. Rutgers and Tennessee each have four players among the 20 in the game, with all four Final Four teams having at least one signee on the roster.
"It's not like it's a championship game, so we're still allowed to have a lot of fun out there," Delle Donne said.
Sixteen of the 20 also played last week in the McDonald's All-America Game in Milwaukee, where Delle Donne had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the game's only double double. This game has her excited because all the players get a free ticket to attend this weekend's Final Four games.
"It's incredible. I definitely wanted to go no matter what, so to get a free ticket there, I can't believe it," she said.
Like many elite players, Delle Donne strongly considered UConn and Tennessee, along with Villanova, which was close to her Delaware home, and Middle Tennessee State, where her brother Gene, also 6-5, is a tight end on the football team.
"I was looking for a team that was really close-knit. I needed a family to go to," said Delle Donne, who also liked Connecticut's special education program. "Tennessee was very similar, in that I really got along well and loved the coaching staff. It was really hard and came right down to the end, but I realized UConn was the right place for me."
Asked which player she patterns her own game after, Delle Donne says no one in particular, saying she's a big fan of former UConn standout Diana Taurasi and was honored to meet Tennessee's Candace Parker when she visited the Vols. The player she's most compared to, for her combination of size and range, is Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.
She bristles at precocious comparisons as the "female LeBron James," a player whose combination of size and skills could make an impact at the WNBA level right now.
Before long, high school players might be comparing their games to Delle Donne, who said she's excited about the high platform on which she'll be challenged to play next season.
"I wanted to play on a big stage, and that's the biggest stage you can play on at a school like Tennessee or UConn," she said. "It might be a little nerve-wracking, but I'm looking forward to it."