DIGGING UP SKYLAR
Name: Skylar Diggins
School: Washington (South Bend, Ind.)
MaxPreps Class of 2009 recruiting ranking: No. 3 overall, No. 1 guard
Career points through Saturday (average): 2,662 (28.5)
Senior per-game averages: 29.2 points, 6.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 6.1 steals
Career HS record: 99-6
College: Notre Dame
Career path: WNBA/Orthopedic surgeon
Favorite players: Candice Wiggins, Dwyane Wade
International flair: Diggins was a member of the USA U18 National team that went undefeated in the FIBA Americas Champions in Buenos Aires last summer.
Family business: Diggins’ biological father Tige Diggins is 6-3 and her grandfather Benny Diggins is 6-10. … Her mother Renee Scott is 5-0 as is Renee’s mother. … Step father Maurice Scott is Washington’s head coach and director of Martin Luther King Center in South Bend. … Maurice was a basketball player and Renee a cheerleader at John Adams High School in South Bend.
Player of the Year?: With roughly a month left in the season, MaxPreps has identified 10 females who could be POY. Diggins is one of them. See where she ranks Thursday.
Xcellent Girls Basketball 25: Click here.
By Mitch Stephens
The days and games are numbered at Washington High for Skylar Diggins, a true prep legend around South Bend, Ind.
The charismatic 5-foot-9 senior combo guard for the nation’s No. 4 team scored 24 points on Saturday, giving her 2,662 for her four-year career, ranking her behind only Stephanie White (2,869) and WNBA standout Shanna Zolman Crossley (3,085).
With a regional playoff win Friday over Elkhart Memorial (20-3), a team they have already defeated by 16 points, the Panthers will win their 100th game against just six defeats since Diggins swished upon the scene in 2005.
Washington (23-0) has won one state title (2007) and finished second twice in that time and it appears on a collision course with No. 2 nationally Ben Davis (Indianapolis) for a fourth straight championship-game appearance.
“Its’ all been a blur,” Diggins said. “It’s all been good.”
So good that her No. 4 elicits similar pride and recognition to the region as another famed basketball legend who donned a pair of 4s at the University of Notre Dame, the same school Diggins will play the next four seasons.
Adrian Dantley is an NBA Hall of Famer whose No. 4 was retired by the Utah Jazz. If she’s not already, Diggins will be as synonymous to South Bend female basketball as Dantley was to South Bend male hoops.
“Frankly, she’s a once in a lifetime player as far as I’m concerned,” said Scott Davidson, a 21-year journalist in Indiana, the last 12 as a staff writer at the South Bend Tribune. “In all sincerity, I’ve felt spoiled covering her the last four years.”
There’s that number again – four.
Diggins didn’t take the numeral to follow Dantley’s path. Frankly, she had to be reminded who the six-time NBA All-Star and league’s No. 18 career scorer is.
Her choice of No. 4 was purely accidental. As a fifth-grader she was fourth in line when they handed out numbers at Woodrow Wilson elementary.
“The first person took No. 1, the next No. 2 and by the time it got to me I was No. 4,” she said. “It just kind of stuck. Now I hope I can do something special with it at the next level.”
Unlike her jersey number, Diggins’ rise to the top of the prep game has been neither random or by accident.
She was pointed to the game by her step father Maurice Scott, now the head coach at Washington, and for the last decade she put her best and quickest first step forward to get better at every facet.
No leather ball has been left unturned or game film undetected by this highly competitive 17-year-old, who seems perfectly content to end her prep career as the state’s No. 3 scorer.
As long as the Panthers win a state title.
She won’t be No. 1 but Davidson said that was simply Diggins’ choice.
“If she had one selfish bone in her body, she would have obliterated the state record by now,” he said. “She could honestly score 40 or 45 a night. But that’s not what Skylar is about.”
GREEN WITH IRISH
When the words left the lips of coach Muffet McGraw – “We’re officially offering you a full ride scholarship to the University of Notre Dame” - Diggins went into a daze.
She’d been an Irish fanatic her whole life, after all.
Her basketball legend around the west side of South Bend sprouted at the age 6 and grew exponentially as she developed into one of the nation’s most skilled, competitive and athletic players.
Her dream was always to lead the Irish to a national crown with throngs of close friends and family cheering her on in the stands.
So, why then the daze and hesitation? Why didn’t she jump out of her seat and scream and shout? Why not bear hug McGraw and commit whole heartedly?
Well, for one thing, Diggins was only an eighth-grader.
She had her parents, Maurice and mother Renee Scott, beside her to rein in all the emotion. Inside, all were doing somersaults. Outside they were cool and composed.
After many deep breaths, they said they were flattered, but needed time to weigh all their options.
“I was thinking ‘oh my goodness,’ " Diggins said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Either could Maurice, who knew his step daughter was advanced, but a full ride offer? At 13-years-old?
“You don’t realize the magnitude of what just went on in there,” Maurice said to Diggins as they walked shell shocked to the car.
The parents did. “We were like ‘wow,’” said Maurice, who has been in Diggins' life since she was 2. “She hadn’t even played a high school game yet. We knew then for sure Skylar was an elite player.”
It took Davidson exactly one high school game to make that evaluation.
About a year after the first Notre Dame offer, in the middle of Diggins’ freshmen season, the Panthers played South Bend rival St. Joseph, which featured four Division I players including current Tennessee standout Sydney Smallbone.
“There were about 3,500 in the arena, standing room only,” Davidson said. “Skylar dropped 43 on them that night and Washington smacked St. Joseph.”
Diggins has been dropping, diming and dashing past opponents ever since, though she never surpassed that 43-point total.
“I remember how loud it was in the gym that night,” Diggins said. “I remember we scored the first basket of the game on a steal and fastbreak layup and the place just exploding. It was awesome.
“They had beat (Washington) by 22 the previous year so we came in with a little chip on our shoulder. We wanted to pay them back and sure enough we won by 22.”
Diggins did much of her scoring that night from long range, connecting on six 3-pointers. It was and still is a big part of her arsenal, though defenses don’t give her much room.
“She’s really rounded her game since then,” Davidson said. “She attacks and gets to the rack. She’s got a great mid-range game. She’s a fantastic passer and defender.”
She’s worked at it.
A CHEERLEADER’S DAUGHTER
By all accounts she’s competitive to the bone, which according to Maurice comes from his wife, a former cheerleader. “No matter what, Skylar wants to be the best,” said Maurice, who was an assistant for six years before taking the head duties this season. “Cards. Checkers. Whatever.”
Said Davidson: “All she cares about is winning. She in unequivocally the most competitive male or female I’ve ever covered. Everyone is a distant second. … If she’s giving 150 percent, then she expects her teammates to give 100.”
Despite the Type-A personality, Davidson said Diggins always finds a balance with the public, fans, teammates and opponents. “It’s hard to believe, but she is a better person than she is a player,” he said. “She is so charismatic and finds a way to relate to everyone.”
It might be hard to relate to how committed she is to the game, Maurice said.
The director of the Martin Luther King Center in West South Bend, where many of the area’s best basketball players developed, Maurice pointed her to the game at 6, but then gave her room to embrace or reject it.
She’s pretty much suffocated it.
She played on boys team early on and dabbled in softball, volleyball, track and tennis. But hoops was clearly the leader in the clubhouse. She attended every game Maurice scouted, coached or officiated, which were countless.
“”I’m just in love with the game and want to get better every day,” Diggins said. “If I’m not playing it or watching or thinking about it, then I’m dreaming about it.”
Maurice can attest to that. He constantly catches her on the TIVO watching and re-watching games.
“She’ll rewind games – all games – WNBA, NBA, college games, high school games – and study moves and movements and tendencies,” he said.
“I think what separates her above the others is her craftiness. She’s athletic for sure but not off-the-charts athletic. She just figures everything out. She does all the little things.
“I truly think she’s the best basketball player in the country because of her mind.”
That’s helped on and off the court.
FUN AND FITTING IN
Rewind to eighth grade when McGraw offered her a full ride. Diggins didn’t let the emotions get the best of her. She had a good hunch the Irish would be her choice.
But over the next three years she read every recruiting letter and e-mail, met with every major college coach and considered every option before getting back to McGraw last Nov. 19.
Stanford, Penn State and Notre Dame were her finalists.
Diggins has attended virtually every Irish game over the last four years so it wasn’t unusual to visit the head coach after a game. After this one – a 96-61 home win over Evansville – Diggins looked over the night’s stat sheet and told McGraw:
“So coach, where am I going to fit in on this sheet next year?”
McGraw was puzzled at first and then let loose as did the entire Notre Dame coaching staff.
“There were some tears all around,” said Diggins, who signed a letter of intent to Notre Dame the following day. “It was a long time coming and the experience and relationships I built with the other places were fantastic.
“But playing in front of my loved ones at the place I’ve always loved was impossible to pass up. I can’t wait to get started.”
Most are convinced Diggins can help turn the Irish (18-5), who have hovered around the top 20 all season, to a top-10 program.
They lose only second-leading scorer Lindsay Schrader to graduation and the current roster features four freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors.
McGraw called Diggins signing in November a great day for the program and along with the addition of Kaila Turner, a senior at Marian Catholic (Joliet, Ill.), the Irish are set in the backcourt for the next four years.
“The things that really impress me the most about Skylar are her composure, her drive, her competitiveness and her will to win,” McGraw said. “She’s such an unselfish player and is someone I think our current team is really go to enjoy playing with.”
Her focus right now of course is bringing home a second state title in three years.
The Panthers are one of the highest scoring teams in the country at 80.0 points per game. They also feature double-digit scorers Takoia Larry, a 5-11 senior averaging 11.9, and Jasmine Watson, a 6-3 senior post averaging 11.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Other key contributors are seniors Karis Phillips (5-2), Alandrea Pfeifer-Nailon (5-9) and Rakeesha Lane (5-9), and freshman Shareita Patton (5-5).
“I think this is a better team than two years ago,” Diggins said. “Everyone has gotten better plus everyone is unselfish and knows their roles. Everyone is willing to give up the rock.”
Maurice’s transition from assistant to head coach has been smooth. “My style is more in your face but the kids have received it real well,” he said.
Being coach and dad can be tricky, Maurice said, though he and Diggins have learned to thrive. She calls him “Daddy Moe,” – Diggins still has a close relationship with her biological father Tige Diggins who resides in Florida – and the two share not only a love for Renee and basketball, but a competitive fire.
It’s helped to be undefeated.
“When I’m at practice I’m coach and when I’m home I’m dad,” he said. “It’s sometimes hard to separate at the dinner table – we’ll still discuss practice. But overall, it’s been nothing but good. We just try to remember to have fun.”
Said Diggins: “It’s always been fun. It’s always been a game to me and never a job.”
In about five years it may very well be.
E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com.