Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne, the first rookie to be the leading vote-getter for the league’s All-Star Game. Delle Donne, the second overall draft pick in April, tallied 35,646 votes. Storm point guard Sue Bird holds the record in All-Star votes at 128,838, set in 2007.
Seattle Times: At first you mentioned being speechless by topping the All-Star vote; do you have more perspective heading into Saturday’s game?
Elena Delle Donne: It really means a lot to know that I have that many fans who were dedicated enough to sit by the computer and make that vote every single day.
ST: Do you think a lot of it was Delaware, your native state and where you attended college?
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DD: Definitely, no doubt.
ST: When you entered the league, you said you wanted to be an All-Star. Did you also set out to popularize the league? Chicago ranks second in merchandise sales among the 12 WNBA teams, also a first.
DD: Yeah, for sure. I feel like it was really important to get more attention to the league. It’s the best league in the world, so I really do feel it’s important to get more acknowledgment, and that’s starting to happen. But, obviously, it needs to continue.
ST: Your talent seems effortless … is it fair to say you’re the reason Chicago is atop the Eastern Conference?
DD: I think it’s just focusing on the important thing, which is winning. I’m doing whatever I have to do to help my team win. So, instead of being focused on anything from the outside, I’m focused on winning and that next game. We all share the same mentality, which has been helping a lot.
ST: Do you ever think back to 2009 when you first decided to return to basketball after giving up a scholarship to Connecticut in order to be close to home?
DD: Yeah. It’s great to know that stepping away was a really good decision. Now I’m able to follow my dreams and be a professional. It’s awesome that I’m able to get to this point now.
ST: What do you like about being a pro?
DD: It’s nice not to have to worry about homework and going to class. And it’s awesome to be paid for playing a sport you love.
ST: You made the decision to leave UConn to be close to your older sister, Lizzie, who is autistic and has cerebral palsy, unable to see or hear. Is it still difficult to be away?
DD: I don’t think she’ll actually make it to any games this season, but I’ve been able to make it home twice now to see her. It’s been a little bit difficult but I’m so busy that I just keep it moving. I’m also going to be staying home in the offseason, not playing overseas. That’s important to me. I can’t say if that’s what I’ll do in the future — you never know what opportunities may arise.
ST: You’re in the early stages of a foundation inspired by Lizzie. What do you think people really need to be educated about?
DD: My foundation is going to be about raising awareness but also raising money. It’s expensive to raise a child with special needs, which people don’t even think about. Emotionally it can be a struggle, but financially it’s really rough. That’s something I want to be able to help families do.
ST: We follow Sky All-Star Courtney Vandersloot, a former Gonzaga and Kentwood High star. What’s she like as your point guard?
DD: She’s amazing. You really have to be ready for the ball at all times because you never know when that pass is coming. She just has incredible pace as a point guard and sees the floor better than anyone I’ve ever played with.
ST: For different reasons, Courtney is also a talented player who opted to play for a program in her state. What does that say to you?
DD: You don’t have to follow what most players do by going to the top school. You can do anything at any school you’re at, as long as you’re focused and you work hard.
ST: I heard you like Chicago and named your puppy Wrigley, after Wrigley Field.
DD: It’s a Great Dane. I got him in Chicago, so I wanted it to be a Chicago name.
ST: He’s not like the Cubbies, though, unable to be trained or win at playing catch.
DD: He’s still learning and has his days; we’re still working on it. He’s really calm and hasn’t been too rough. Usually puppies are crazy but I think he’s growing so fast that he’s calm and kind of tired.
Well, I guess that is like the Cubbies.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.