Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne said Tuesday she is experiencing the "greatest offseason of my career," indicating she is in her best form since back issues requiring multiple surgeries hampered her past few seasons in the WNBA.
Delle Donne, 33, a two-time WNBA MVP, has finally been able to shelve rehabbing for true basketball training, she said, and is a full-go with no hesitations this week in USA Basketball's minicamp in Minneapolis, one of several evaluation opportunities for the national team pool heading into the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"My [next] step is just continuing on this path to continue to be stronger and better," the six-time All-Star told reporters Tuesday. "It's no longer, 'Am I going to be healthy?' It's, 'How can I be the best Elena I can possibly be on-court?'"
After winning her first WNBA championship with the Mystics in 2019, Delle Donne opted out of the 2020 WNBA bubble season and then managed to take the floor for just three games in 2021 as she dealt with back issues. She appeared in 25 regular-season contests plus both Washington playoff games in 2022, practicing load management as she returned to full strength.
But now, Delle Donne said, she is able to lift far more weight than ever before, giving her optimism for the upcoming season and her future with USA Basketball. Delle Donne said that in the last USAB camp she participated in, she worked out in the beginning parts of practices but then had to go to a side court and shoot alone.
"It's so nice to be in full practice, feeling great, back out there," Delle Donne said. "I absolutely love USA Basketball. I have had incredible moments out here with some of these players. So to be back, to be a little bit older, it's all good."
The 6-foot-5 star out of Delaware competed with Team USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2018 World Cup but wasn't healthy enough to be considered for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or 2022 World Cup.
Making her return to the team for the Paris Games would "mean so much," she said.
"There were days where I couldn't sit in a chair for more than a minute because I was in so much nerve pain. And this has been one of those goals that kept me going through some of the hardest times possible in my life, not knowing if I'd even be able to play basketball again. So to be here now, to be competing, feeling strong, certainly the goal is Paris, and we'll see how it goes," she said.
Another former No. 1 overall WNBA pick who has dealt with injuries recently, Angel McCoughtry, told reporters that she is using this USA Basketball minicamp as a sort of tryout to prove to evaluators that she still belongs in the league.
The five-time All-Star spent the majority of her career with the Atlanta Dream, with recent stints in Las Vegas and Minnesota, but has suffered multiple knee injuries over the past few years, playing just one full season (2020 with Vegas) across the past four.
After signing as a free agent with the Minnesota Lynx in February 2022, the 6-1 wing agreed to a contract buyout just two games into the season. But McCoughtry said she "still [has] juice left in the tank."
"I think now I'm at that point now where I'm just kind of smooth sailing," McCoughtry, 36, said. "Obviously as you get older, things just take a little more time to heal than when you were in your 20s. That's just the nature of it. So now I feel good. I'm feeling like my old self again."
McCoughtry -- who played with Team USA in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics as well as the 2010 and 2014 World Championships -- is the only player at camp who is not currently signed to a WNBA team, but she said she is embracing that and hopes she can show teams that she's ready to play again.
"I'm ready to get signed," McCoughtry said. "I'm ready to have insurance again, dental, health insurance. And I think once I get signed, it'll be a better situation for me to have facilities and to be taken care of with trainers and things like that. ... I would love to get some offers, so hopefully that will happen soon."