Delle Donne opted out of Team USA due to schedule, Mystics coach says originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Over Labor Day weekend, members of Team USA reported to Las Vegas to begin training camp for the upcoming women's World Cup in Australia later this month. But on Monday, there was a surprising absence in the updated roster which sent shockwaves among WNBA fans. Long-time national team member and 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Elena Delle Donne was not on the list.
Her omission, however, was not due to injury concerns or internal politics behind the scenes. It was a decision Delle Donne made, facing her first real offseason since the 2018-19 gap.
Mystics head coach and Team USA assistant coach Mike Thibault explained her reasoning on Wednesday.
"As for Elena, it came down to a decision on her own that she looked at all the practice schedule and game schedule for this," Thibault said. "(The Mystics) were pretty methodical about how we addressed her during the season and the USA experience right now would be, I think we play something like eight games in 11 days or whatever it is in the tournament and on top of practices for several weeks, without our day-to-day medical, that would be a really big ask for her to do that full-time."
Delle Donne is just coming off a WNBA season where she missed 11 games, nearly a third of the season, due to rest. After spending two years rehabbing from multiple back procedures, she and the team doctors wanted to ease her back into the fray. By year's end, the missed games, though, were few and far between.
That's part of the reason why when she received an invite in August to training camp, there was renewed optimism that she could play with the national team.
The two-time WNBA MVP has not played internationally since 2018. She's participated in training programs and attended the World Cup qualifying camp in February of 2022, but hasn't been healthy enough to play since she herniated three discs in her back in 2019.
Prior to that point, she was a regular participant with Team USA. In addition to the Gold medal at the Rio Olympics, she also won gold at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and the 2011 World University Games. She owns a 26-0 record when playing with the National Team.
When she did not play in the 2020 Toyko Olympics (played in 2021) she admitted that she "struggled" to watch games because it was tough to not be on the team.
Stepping aside for this cycle is more about her long-term health. This offseason she is looking forward to training instead of rehab.
"This is a continue to build her game-type situation and so she wants a little bit of downtime and then get in the gym and start working on parts of the game that she wants to keep expanding and working on like she would in a normal offseason. The demands of the USA thing in a short amount of time would have put a lot of stress on her. She felt like her recovery and getting to the next thing was more important right now," Thibault said.
Myisha Hines-Allen was also not on the list of participants for the upcoming training camp after being one of four Mystics to receive the original invite. Thibault said she chose to have surgery later this week on her left knee to take care of a nagging injury. It will take three to four months of recovery before she returns.
Fellow teammates Ariel Atkins (2020 Olympic Gold medalist) and Shakira Austin (first appearance) are Washington's remaining members in the player pool.