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MORRISSEY: Elena Delle Donne has skills and a purpose

2013 Chicago Sky MediDay

2013 Chicago Sky Media Day

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Updated: August 22, 2013 6:32AM

Ask Elena Delle Donne what she wants out of basketball, and she’ll tell you what she wants out of life.

Well, sure, she hopes to win championships with the Sky, collect Olympic gold medals and reach the heights someone of her talents should reach.

But she sees basketball as a vehicle, and it doesn’t look a thing like a Porsche.

She sees it taking her to a place where she can raise money for people with special needs, to her own charitable foundation someday soon.

“I feel like a big reason why I’m on this platform and why I was given these skills to play basketball is to kind of be the voice for Lizzie,’’ she said.

That would be Lizzie Delle Donne, her 29-year-old sister. Lizzie has cerebral palsy and is autistic. She can’t see or hear. She has absolutely no idea that Elena was the leading vote-getter for the WNBA All-Star Game, a first for a rookie, or that she leads the Sky in scoring. She doesn’t know what a basketball is.

But she knows Elena by touch and scent.

“She doesn’t even know the concept that I’m her sister,’’ Delle Donne said. “It’s just simple [from Lizzie’s standpoint]: There’s a person here, and I love her, and we interact a lot.’’

Delle Donne has lived in two worlds most of her life. The more public one started when it became apparent that a 10-year-old basketball prodigy was blossoming in Wilmington, Del. Then came three high school state titles; a two-day stay with powerhouse UConn, thanks, in part, to a bad case of recruiting-fueled burnout; a year of volleyball at the University of Delaware; four seasons of standout hoops for the Blue Hens; and the distinction of being the second player chosen in this year’s WNBA draft.

The less public world began when Elena was born. It’s the world she has known from the beginning, the one with an older sister who needs help. Lizzie is another reason Delle Donne left Connecticut so quickly.

“I just wasn’t prepared to leave her at that time in my life,’’ she said. “I wasn’t ready for it. All of our interaction is one-on-one, in person. Leaving her was a bit of a shock at that point.’’

One world is not better than the other.

“They’re completely different,’’ Delle Donne said. “You come home to that, and it just puts life in perspective. I owe her everything, so I would love to just give back as best as I can.’’

The sports world will tell you that everything Delle Donne has in life is tied to her ability on a basketball court. She’ll tell you that everything she has in life is tied to someone who only wants to be held.

And so the 23-year-old plans to use her fame to give back to people like her sister. Their brother, Gene, who also is Elena’s agent, is helping to set up the foundation. She hopes it will be up and running in the next year.

Some pro athletes have charitable foundations for all the right reasons, and some have them for the public-relations benefits. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the motivation is as long as the money goes to the people who need it. But it certainly helps to have someone as engaged in the mission as Delle Donne surely will be.

She’s off to a good start in building her name. She’s 6-5 with a rare inside-outside game. It’s why the transition to the pros has been easy for her. And it’s one of the reasons the Sky is 12-4 — it beat the Liberty 80-69 Saturday night — after finishing 14-20 last season.

Going into Saturday, the Sky’s attendance was at 7,645 per game, up from an average of 5,573 last season. Much of it has to do with a first-place team and the continued excellence of Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince. The Sky has never finished with a winning record.

Everything has been exciting for the rookie. She threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game, got hooked and named her Great Dane puppy “Wrigley.’’ She likes deep-dish pizza.

But home is home, and family is family.

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