In college, Skylar Diggins was one of the most dynamic basketball players in the country. So when the point guard jumped to the WNBA in 2013, she was expected to finish at the top of her rookie class last year. But her first season with the Tulsa Shock ended in disappointment.
After winning the prestigious Nancy Lieberman Award and being a unanimous All-America selection at Notre Dame, Diggins was chosen third overall in the 2013 WNBA draft. She averaged eight points and 3.8 assists per game for the Shock — a far cry from the 17.1 points and 6.1 assists she averaged in her senior season for the Fighting Irish. She also led Notre Dame to the NCAA championship game in 2011 and 2012, but the Shock finished the season 12 games under .500.
Diggins received ample criticism for underachieving in her debut year. So in the offseason she used a simple formula to take her game — and her team — to the next level. She started a challenging training regiment, began intense basketball workouts, and focused consistently on learning from her teammates and coaches.
Last season, Diggins simply didn't look like the forceful floor general she was in college. But she does now.
As the second leading scorer in the league with 21 points per game, Diggins is experiencing a sophomore surge. Not only is she knocking down more shots — she lit up the Chicago Sky with a career high 33 points in June — she's dishing the ball effectively too, with 5.3 assists per game. And on July 19, she’ll play in her first WNBA All-Star Game.
“Those that know me know I’m harder on myself than anyone,” Diggins says. “No one can have greater expectations than I do for myself. So I was quietly putting my work in and knew I was going to come back with a vengeance. It’s a rough road that leads to greatness.”
Diggins’ offseason focus has made her a force to be reckoned with. Her enhanced offensive attack has her leading the league in free throw attempts and makes this year. Her skill set is also complemented by her most prized improvement — an ability to finish with both hands — and that has added a new dimension to her game.
Both the Shock and opposing teams have taken notice of Diggins’ stepped-up play.
New York Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer says when you prepare to play the Shock, you have to be ready to play a very guard dominant team led by Diggins.
Laimbeer, also a Notre Dame alum, admitted to paying close attention to, and even cheering for Diggins during her college career. “I wanted Notre Dame to do well and win was she was playing there,” Laimbeer said. “Now she’s not though, so I hope we win.”
Glory Johnson, a former Lady Volunteer from Tennessee, is one teammate who has been watching Diggins and seen her attitude day in and day out. Johnson says kids can learn a lot by watching her Shock team, which has stuck together through tough, close, and even overtime losses.
“I hope young kids pay attention to the fact that we might not always come up with the victory or be as successful as we need to be,” Johnson said. “But we’re still going to keep working hard.”
Diggins’ has certainly attracted a large following among young female basketball fans. They show up to opposing arenas, like they did at Madison Square Garden in July, wearing Notre Dame jerseys and sporting Diggins’ signature Nike headbands. Her hard work and talent have also helped her attract a monstrous fan base, complete with NBA players, celebrities like Drake, and nearly 500,000 Twitter followers.
That’s all a bonus. What really drives Diggins is getting the Shock back to postseason — a place the team hasn’t been since relocating to Tulsa four years ago.
As a captain and point guard, she says she aims to lead by example. “It’s a matter of coming in and contributing and giving my best effort and attitude every day,” she says. “I want to motivate my teammates to push themselves by pushing myself everyday.”
“There’s a bright future ahead,” she adds. “I just need to keep my head on straight, stay humble, and stay determined.”
Photo: Shane Bevel/NBAE via Getty Images