ORONO, Maine — Elena Delle Donne has been referred to as the female LeBron James.
Tonight, the former national high school basketball player of the year and No. 1 recruit in the nation will show her stuff at Alfond Arena when she and the Delaware Blue Hens take on the University of Maine.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Delle Donne, whose addition to the Delaware roster this year reportedly helped triple the Blue Hens’ season ticket sales, will be the center of attention for the Black Bears.
“Della Donne is going to be the player that everyone talks about and rightfully so, she’s very talented,” said UMaine coach Cindy Blodgett. “I’ve told our players it’s not something to fear, it’s something to relish the moment and go up against her and take it as a challenge to make every shot she takes difficult.”
Delle Donne, a versatile 6-foot-5 swing player, originally signed with the University of Connecticut after a stellar career at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del. Her achievements there included four state championships, becoming the state’s all-time leading scorer (2,818 points) and sinking a national-record 80 consecutive free throws (during 2005-06).
However, homesickness and the desire to be closer to her family led Delle Donne back home to Delaware.
She left UConn abruptly last fall and enrolled at Delaware, where she hooked on with the Hens’ volleyball team. She was named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie Team. She did not play basketball.
This year, she has returned to the basketball court and is playing for veteran coach Tina Martin.
Delle Donne is averaging a team-best 23.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for 3-3 Delaware. She also has posted 3.8 assists and 2.0 blocked shots per contest while shooting 50 percent from the field, 92 percent from the foul line and 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Blodgett had high praise for the Blue Hens’ star.
“She’s a 6-5 athlete. She can score, she can rebound and she has the potential to impact every play,” Blodgett said.
“She plays like a guy and I mean that as the highest compliment,” she continued. “She’s long, lanky, coordinated and she has deep range.”
However, Blodgett said UMaine (2-4) can’t become blinded by focusing too much on Delle Donne’s performance. As Blodgett discovered during her playing career, great players usually wind up getting their points — even with extra defensive attention and effort.
“What we do with their other players, that will be our challenge,” Blodgett said. “The teams that have had success against them, they don’t lose their minds when she scores.”
Blodgett said Delaware has a formidable supporting cast, including Lauren Carra and Tesia Harris.
“Their team complements Delle Donne very well,” Blodgett said.
UMaine signs two post players
Blodgett announced Monday that UMaine has landed two players during the early signing period.
Post players Jaymie Druding and Alison Nalivaika have signed National Letters of Intent to attend UMaine beginning in the fall of 2010.
Druding, a 6-2 center, was an All-ECIC pick and an All-Western New York honorable mention at Orchard Park (N.Y.) High School, where she averaged 11.7 points per game as a junior.
Jaymie is a little bit more physical at this point,” Blodgett said. “She can get up and down the court and demands the ball. The key for her will be how quickly she adapts to the pace of the college game, the speed of it.”
Nalivaika, a 6-4 post player, was an all-conference choice for Saint Peter Marian Central Catholic High School in Worcester, Mass. She averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds per game last winter.
“Ali’s got a nice, long reach,” Blodgett said. “She’s really coachable, really wants to get better.”
Blodgett is convincing both girls to focus their attention on preparing themselves mentally and physically not only for their senior seasons, but for their careers at UMaine.
The eligibility of all student-athletes is contingent upon admission to UMaine and compliance with NCAA initial-eligibility guidelines.