SOUTH BEND – Skylar Diggins remembers just being excited to be wearing her Notre Dame uniform for the first time four years ago as she got ready for her freshman season.
The star senior guard has since become the face of an Irish team that advanced to back-to-back NCAA tournament championship games, and as she embarks on her final season, Diggins couldn’t imagine wearing any other uniform.
The best decision I ever made in my life was choosing to come to Notre Dame, Diggins said. Everything that came with it, just the opportunities that playing basketball provides, being here in this atmosphere both academically and athletically affects so many facets of my life. Helping me grow into a woman and this is the woman I’ll be the rest of my life, and I let Notre Dame develop me into that woman. Being around Coach McGraw and the Notre Dame community is something I couldn’t picture myself having gone without.
It’s hard to imagine Notre Dame having the same success it has had the past three seasons without Diggins.
The South Bend Washington product started in 30 of 35 games as a freshman, averaging 13.8 points and 3.2 assists.
Diggins took over as the starting point guard as a sophomore and averaged 15 points and 4.8 assists as Notre Dame went 31-8 and reached the finals of the NCAA tournament, losing 76-70 to Texas A&M.
Last season, Diggins did even more as she led the team in scoring, 16.8 points per game, and assists, 5.7, as the Irish went 35-4 and reached the title game for a second straight season, losing to Baylor 80-61.
Diggins will be counted on to repeat, if not improve, her statistical performances that have made her an Associated Press and State Farm Coaches’ All-American the past two years and a unanimous selection to this season’s AP preseason All-America team, but she will also need to add another dimension to herself as a player.
With the graduation of starters Devereaux Peters, Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory, Diggins will have to help mold a younger and less experienced team into another title contender.
This year is going to be another step for her, coach Muffet McGraw said. She doesn’t have Brittany to do a lot of the talking and a lot of the leading, so her leadership is going to be tested a little more this year.
Diggins will also have her patience tested as Kayla McBride, the only other returning starter from last season, learns to be a bigger offensive threat, and forward Natalie Achonwa grows into a top rebounder and defensive safety net.
Notre Dame will also be integrating key reserves from last season – Kaila Turner, Markisha Washington and Fraderica Miller – into bigger roles, while also getting freshmen Jewell Lloyd, Hannah Huffman and Michaela Mabrey up to speed quickly.
She knows what she has to do, and she can step back and understand where they are coming from. She remembers what it was like when she was a freshman, but it is difficult in the moment, McGraw said of Diggins being able to remain calm while pushing her teammates. We continue to talk to her about it.
But I think the freshmen have to understand that when you get off the court, you can’t take it with you. You have to understand what she is saying and what she needs you to do, and then you have to do it. I think the sooner they understand that, I think the less frustration Skylar will have.