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Sky’s Delle Donne headed for Olympics, ready to play for Auriemma

Elena Delle Donne smiles while being interviewed during the espnW: Women + Sports Chicago event last week in West Town. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Elena Delle Donne will be the first to admit that at least once, there has been some awkwardness to her relationship with U.S. Olympic women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

Even before the Sky star forward was named to the Olympic team on Wednesday, she had a history for Auriemma, who has guided Connecticut to four straight national titles.

Delle Donne committed to play for the Huskies along side fellow Olympian Diana Taurasi outside of high school, only to remain on campus for 48 hours before deciding she needed to return home to Delaware. At the time, Auriemma questioned Delle Donne’s commitment to the game only later to mend fences with Delle Donne, who went on to play collegiately at the University of Delaware.

So, now – all these years later – no hard feelings?

“Maybe that first hug (with Auriemma) was a butt-out hug,” Delle Donne said last week at an espn W event in West Town in reference to her reunion with the coach she initially agreed to play college basketball for. “But we figured it out from there.”

Delle Donne, who wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, told the Associated Press that receiving the call about her appointment to the 12-member Olympic squad was emotional and a moment she had difficulty putting into words.

Delle Donne, who suffers from Lyme Disease, said last week that concerns over the Zika Virus in Brazil this summer wouldn’t factor into her choice to play for a women’s team that will be looking for their sixth straight Olympic gold medal.

That certainly didn’t change when Delle Donne received official word she had made the team.

“This has been by far the pinnacle of my career and the best news I’ve ever heard,” Delle Donne said.

Delle Donne, the reigning WNBA MVP, is one of three first-time Olympians, joining No. 1 overall draft pick Breanna Stewart and former Baylor star Brittney Griner.

Auriemma said Wednesday that first-time Olympians like Delle Donne will have to adjust quickly to an international game in which opposing players will be older and more experienced. But he said first-timers must also adjust their thinking as they begin the WNBA season before breaking for the Olympics this summer – a message Auriemma passed on to Delle Donne on Wednesday.

“Being an Olympian suggests that you’re one of the best players in the world so now, you’ve got to live up to that,” Auriemma said. “When (Delle Donne) plays now, she’s not just playing as a member of the Chicago Sky. She’s playing as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and that carries a certain amount of expectation with it.”

Auriemma likes Delle Donne’s versatility and the way she has risen to the top of the WNBA. And although his time around her in college was short, he believes he knows enough about Delle Donne and her game to make for an effective player-coach relationship.

“Forty-eight hours isn’t a real long time to get a feel for somebody,” Auriemma said, referring to Delle Donne’s brief stay at UConn. “I feel like I know her a little bit, I feel like I know what makes her tick and that I can get to her in a way that she understands.

“Our relationship is great and I would expect it to get even better.”

For Delle Donne’s sake, perhaps her next hug with Auriemma won’t be so uncomfortable.

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