Top prospect picks UConn over Tennessee

Sunday morning, the Delle Donne family was assembled in their den. Elena, on hiatus from basketball until next week, nevertheless could not stop thinking about it. In particular, she could not stop thinking about her decision on a college program.

Frustrated, she told her parents, Ernie and Joannie, "I'm not even going to play in college."

They assured her that the decision-making process was simply weighing on her.

On the way to the gym with her mother later in the day, Elena Delle Donne had what Joannie calls "an epiphany."

"All of a sudden, I just said, 'I'm going to UConn,'" the player ranked No. 1 in the 2008 class by HoopGurlz.com and most others, recounted.

"In the back of my mind, I'd always thought UConn. But in the car with my mother, I was thinking of every reason that made UConn great. Why not go there? The reason the decision dragged out so long is that I loved the other schools so much. It was hard to break the ties with them."

Tennessee was the other school Delle Donne considered most, though Middle Tennessee State, where her brother Gene plays football, and hometown Villanova also were in the picture.

Ultimately, Connecticut, Delle Donne believed, "was the best fit." It is closer to her home in Wilmington, Del., and the players there complement her better, she said. Another member of the Huskies' 2008 recruiting class is Caroline Doty of Doylestown, Pa., who was a longtime teammate of Delle Donne's at Fencor and remains a close friend.

"I talked to Caroline the whole time," Delle Donne said. "She never forced me into anything. All she did was tell me all she knew about UConn and it really helped. It's definitely comforting, knowing I'll be going away to college with a close friend. I'll get to see her family when they come to visit. It will still feel like home to me."

So one of the hottest rivalries in all of sport likely gets super-charged. A year after recruiting the No. 1 ranked class in the nation, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is in the process of building an even better one with Amber Gray, ranked No. 4 in 2008 by HoopGurlz; Shekinna Stricklen, No. 8; Alicia Manning, No. 15, and Alyssia Brewer, No. 20.

The assemblage of talent may have worked against Tennessee in its pursuit of Delle Donne, however. Gray, Stricklen, Manning and 2007 signee Vicki Baugh can play the same positions as Delle Donne, though she stands out as a shooter, particularly one who is 6-foot-4.

Connecticut, on the other hand, now has a 2008 class the equal of, or perhaps superior. Delle Donne is the third straight No. 1 player recruited by Auriemma, following Tina Charles in 2006 and Maya Moore in 2007. Each plays a different position. The Huskies also have commitments this year from Doty, a guard ranked No. 10 overall by HoopGurlz; guard Tiffany Hayes (No. 11), and post Heather Buck, the No. 31 player who verbally committed on Saturday.

"I loved Tennessee, but it was not the program for me," Delle Donne said. "I have to be with players who complement me, and they just have so many recruits. It's not so much anything negative about them, as it is that UConn is just the best fit. The players really complement me. The games will be so much closer to home. And I love Geno. He really recruits pieces to a puzzle instead of trying to get every recruit he can."

On July 5, Delle Donne made the shocking announcement that she was taking the summer off from basketball. In the process, she gave up a likely berth on the USA team that won the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships. At the time, part of her believed she was finished with basketball.

Still, though she was supposed to set it aside, Delle Donne pondered her college choice throughout the hiatus. In the process, she got her answer about her love for the game.

"I thought about it every day," she said. "I wasn't supposed to, but I couldn't help it. Every time I thought about it, I got a sickening feeling. I knew that, no matter how much time I was away from the game, I still had this big decision to make about college.

"Now that I've made the decision, I know I want to play. There's no question about it."

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