Delaware star Elena Delle Donne's stature is growing with every game. The vice president — of the country, not the school — even made it to a recent game to see the nation's leading scorer.
Vice President Joe Biden, an enthusiastic alumnus, watched Delaware beat Drexel on Jan. 22 and spoke to the team after the game. He slipped into the sold-out arena, sitting near midcourt with Delaware Governor Jack Markell.
Delaware is off to its best start in school history behind Delle Donne, who is averaging 28 points. The Blue Hens made their first appearance in the Top 25 in late November and have shot up the rankings each week.
"The combination of Tina Martin and Elena Delle Donne — a great coach and the premier guard in the nation — has been extraordinary to watch," Vice President Joe Biden told The Associated Press in an email. "Their performance also has attracted other great players and excited the state, including me and my granddaughters."
Just don't expect to see the 6-foot-5 phenom and eighth-ranked Blue Hens play live on national TV until the NCAA tournament. Two weeks ago, they clinched their second-ever Colonial Athletic Association regular season title beating Drexel 40-39 on a last-second shot by Delle Donne.
The junior from Wilmington, Del., scored a season-low 12 points, but there was no doubt where the ball was going with the team down one with 16 seconds left. It would have made for a great TV moment, but Delaware hasn't had the chance to showcase itself on national television yet.
"While the women's game has come far in the past decade in terms of TV coverage, I'm still baffled that someone like Elena Delle Donne is never on air for us to see," said Oregonian sports writer Lindsay Schnell, who votes in the weekly AP Top 25 poll. "Voters and fans out west are lucky if we get the occasional highlight on ESPN of her. In reality, most of us won't actually watch her play till the tournament, which is a shame because she's changing the women's game."
It's not exactly the fault of ESPN — which broadcasts many of the nationally televised women's games — that the Blue Hens haven't appeared on the network yet. ESPN makes up its women's schedule before the season starts and it would have been hard to predict the rise of Delaware.
"The majority of the schedule for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3 was done prior to the season," said ESPN senior publicist Rachel Margolis. "The addition of ESPN3 games throughout the season come from local productions at the expense of the schools."
The network did approach Delaware last Monday to put its game on Sunday against Northeastern on ESPN3, but the school didn't have enough turnaround time to get it done.
The Colonial Athletic Association had three games on ESPN3 this year, but none featured Delaware.
"Hindsight is 20-20 or something better than 20-20. We're picking these games in mid-September. We have to have balance because that's what our bylaws call for," CAA deputy commissioner of basketball Ron Bertovich said. "They were on (Comcast) twice to balance out other teams. Our league schedule is developed before the television window comes out."
Not being on national television doesn't seem to bother Delle Donne.
"Not at all. We're extremely happy with our success and how we've done this season," she said. "I think we'll start getting a little more national recognition. But if we don't, we're still enjoying it, loving it, and we're going to have to try to continue to succeed."
Maybe someone fresh is just what women's basketball needs. Over the last two seasons ESPN's signature women's package on Monday night hasn't been too competitive with most games quickly turning into routs. The average margin of victory has been more than 25 points.
"It's not good," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose team has played on ESPN networks 30 times over the past four years during the regular season. "We'd like to see compelling games that go down to the wire. On the men's side they have bracketbuster games. That would be great for the women's game.
"It can't be the same ol'e, same ol'e. Delaware, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Bowling Green, St. Bonaventure, there's a lot of good stuff going on around the country."
Auriemma has definitely noticed the Blue Hens' rise and the play of Delle Donne, who spent a few days on the UConn campus the summer before her freshman year before deciding to play closer to home. Delle Donne, who is eligible for the WNBA draft this season, has already said she will return next year.
"It's a great story, the Delaware story," he said. "It will be interesting to see what happens when they get in the NCAA tournament. I think it's great for the game that she will be back next year. Like when Rebecca (Lobo) was here. Maybe they build on it. It's a beautiful campus, close proximity to a lot of good players. This could be the start of something real special."
Buoyed by its success, Delaware was selected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament next season. The Blue Hens draw an average of 3,700 fans, with Delle Donne being no small part of the reason.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company