Catching Up With Golden Girl Skylar Diggins
Colorado Springs, Colo. ē Jan. 16, 2013
University of Notre Dame senior Skylar Diggins has helped lead the Fighting Irish to a pair of NCAA championship games in the past two years, falling disappointingly short of her title goal both times. Luckily for USA Basketball, USA teams with Diggins on the roster have never come up short. With USA Basketball, Diggins is 100 percent golden. Well, sort of. She admittley messed up in the 2012 FIBA 3x3 World Championship Skills Challenge and that cost her the gold. Still, Diggins claimed the silver - her only non-gold medal with USA Basketball.
First stepping on the court in a USA uniform in 2007, Diggins helped lead her USA Youth Development Festival White Team to gold. Traveling overseas for the first time for her country, Diggins again came home with gold Ė this time from the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Argentina. In 2009, it was gold again for Diggins and the USA. However, this time there was a slight blip as the U.S. dropped its first game of the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship to Spain. Revenge was sweet as the American women went on to vanquish Spain in the gold medal game and Diggins came home from Thailand with her fourth gold medal. In 2011 she once again brought home the gold, this time from China as a member of the USA World University Games Team.
Called upon for the fifth time in six summers to don a USA Basketball jersey, Diggins jumped at the chance. She teamed up with Stanfordís Chiney Ogwumike, UConnís Bria Hartley and former UConn standout Ann Strother to form the 2012 USA 3x3 World Championship Team. They traveled to Athens, Greece, for the first FIBA 3x3 World Championship and spent the weekend competing against and getting to know players from around the world. Included in the 24-team tournament were traditional womenís basketball powers like Australia, Brazil, France, Russia and Spain. Additionally, there were teams competing from non-traditional basketball countries such as Bulgaria, Estonia Jordan and Nepal.
Keeping with her theme of collecting gold medals from around the world, Diggins and her USA teammates compiled a perfect 9-0 slate en route to gold, downing Australia 19-18 in the semis and tournament-favorite France 17-16 in the gold medal game.
In all, Diggins has an overall 32-1 record and five gold medals in her trophy case from playing for USA Basketball.
And her one silver in the 2012 3x3 Skills Challenge?
"It was a series of ball-handling things and the first day we did it, I got the highest time pretty nonchalant," Diggins told USA Basketball the day she was awarded the silver. "When I went through (in the finals), I mishandled the ball and finished it. I still finished, I thought I was going to win, but I mishandled it and I lost it."
Along the way, Diggins has collected friendships as well as gold medals, and her USA teammates are a whoís who in the womenís basketball community. In addition to the Ogwumike sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney, Diggins has competed alongside former UND teammates Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, teamed up with UND rivals from UConn such as Hartley and Kelly Faris, as well as numerous other All-Americans.
USA Basketball caught up with Diggins recently to find out what makes playing for USA Basketball so special.
What type of skills from 5-on-5 basketball can benefit you in 3-on-3 and vice versa?
The 3-on-3 game is very different than 5-on-5. †I think what helped me was leadership and strategy. Those were two things, when I was growing up, that helped me in 3-on-3. Thatís the game that everybody grows up playing, backyard basketball and what have you. There was a lot of strategy that went into the 3-on-3 game: do you want to let them score? Unheard of strategy that you wouldnít want to bring back to 5-on-5, do I let them score so I can get another possession? But, time, score and possession, that was similar to the 5-on-5 game.
Looking back at the 3x3 World Championship, what do you remember most about the experience?
It was playing against so many teams that I donít traditionally play with USA Basketball. The competition was countries that you donít traditionally think of as basketball countries. Also, the people that you got to meet out there. There were so many different countries, and the teams were so small that it gave you the opportunity to be a little bit more social. There were a lot of interesting players that you got to meet and talk to, some of whom have played in the United States. Itís always a social thing when you get so many different people together from so many different countries. People want to know your story. As our team showed it was one of the best teams, everyone wanted to know a little bit more about the United States.
The experience was great, everybody coming together. Also, being outside. That was different, playing basketball outside. It was a really relaxed atmosphere.
Overall, it was the experience of meeting new people from different countries, playing against different competition than Iím used to with previous international competition.
|The USA women and Serbian men captured the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championship gold medals.†||†|
The culture of USA Basketball is not only about winning gold medals, itís also about being good ambassadors for the United States off the court. Youíve traveled to Argentina, Thailand, China and Greece with USA Basketball. Do you think youíve done this?
It means a lot to me. Itís obviously a blessing every time you get the opportunity to wear USA across your chest. Itís something that you dream of growing up, playing for your country. I think itís a great feeling to be able to wear those jerseys. Iím always excited when I get the chance to play overseas.
For a lot of people, itís their first impression of Americans theyíve ever had. Youíre the first American theyíve ever met. Itís all about the class of USA Basketball, understanding that you represent a lot more than yourself. The experiences of meeting new people and changing their perspective, people donít necessarily see us as some of the most positive people in the world. The outlook that some people have of Americans is not positive, so we get to change some peopleís minds about their thoughts on Americans. I think itís great.
Then, being able to play the game and win. Thatís something weíre known for: winning and excelling. I think thatís great. Itís a lot of pressure, but USA Basketball does a great job of choosing the players and coaches in a combination that makes things work.†
Some of the players on the 2011 World University Games Team are now professionals. Have you followed their careers and watched how theyíve transitioned into the next level?
Oh, yes. Iíve also had conversations with a couple of them. Nneka (Ogwumike), specifically; Lynetta Kizer, Iíve talked to her; Strick (Shekinna Stricklen), Iíve been following her career. Seeing them out there playing, itís like ĎWow!í I remember when we were all back in high school and we came out to USA Basketball for the Youth Development Festival in 2007, and now to see people like Glory Johnson in the league, Dev (Peters) and Natalie (Novosel), people I was so close with and played with all those years, to see them playing professionally, thatís amazing.
I feel like I was kind of in their class, because I was playing with all of them. Itís just great seeing them all out there doing their thing. It definitely is showing me how. Theyíre teaching me the ropes. Iím sure they will even more when I get there, but theyíre telling me different things about the next level that I think will help me.
Are you thankful for your various experiences on these teams to be able to make possible lifelong friendships with people you might not otherwise be friends with, given the fact that theyíre at different schools, different parts of the country, etc.?
Absolutely. I think the big one was this summer with Bria (Hartley). People were like, ďwhat? You guys can coexist?Ē I think it was interesting, being out there with her, I always knew she was a good player and I loved playing with her. Good players love playing with each other. I think we compliment each other well. Sheís a competitor like I am. Along with Chiney (Ogwumike), all our teams went to the (2012) Final Four. Teams that usually are pitted against each other, especially the rivalry that mine and Briaís teams have, I think it was a relief not having to guard her for once, us being on the same team. This year at the Big East Tournament, when we hug each other, I think we show everybody that even though the media likes to pump up the rivalry, itís not us against each other. Itís a game with two really good basketball teams, and we can be friends. It was great, and it was a great team to be a part of.
While you still have a half a year left at Notre Dame, what do you think you need to do to continue moving up the USA Basketball pipeline to eventually make an Olympic or World Championship team?
I think I just have to continue to play how I know to play. Continue to get better everyday, being in the gym, take it one day at a time. I just need to grow. Iím still growing as a player. I can only play the game the way I know how. Iím a competitor. Iím passionate about the game of basketball. That has taken me far, but obviously when you get to the next level, everybody is physical. So, I need to keep my physical strength up and continue to be myself.
I have a lot of positive people and a great circle that surrounds me to help me through the day and who help me get to where I need to get to. I think (it will take) a little luck, hard work, patience and good timing.
I think itíll all work out. It always has. Iím never really worried. Iím just blessed to say that Iím living out my dreams at Notre Dame right now, thatís the level that Iím at. I really donít do too much thinking about the future right now. I try not to because I like living in the moment, but Iíve always dreamed about going to the Olympics.
Looking back at your five USA Basketball teams, what are some of your favorite memories?
We were in Thailand (for the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship), and we got beat by Spain in our first game. Everyone was like, ĎOh my goodness. We lost to Spain.í I think that championship gold medal game against Spain was super-special, because we lost to them to start the tournament, but we banded together. With that team, we had lots of injuries. Sarah Boothe got injured, Pepper (Wilson), and somebody else went down (Destiny Williams). I just remember the fight in that team.
This year was obviously special, because we were the first ones to do it (compete in and win the first FIBA 3x3 World Championship). We made history. It was one of the most competitive series of games that Iíve been a part of in USA Basketball. It was a great experience to represent USA Basketball in a different setting.
NOTE: Boothe and Wilson were named as USA U19 World Championship Team finalists, however, they were injured prior to the final team being named.
Do you have any advice for this yearís USA U19 World Championship and World University Games Team Trials participants about trials and the competition itself?
I think itís very, very tough to make a USA Basketball team. Itís not just necessarily if youíre on paper better than another player; theyíre looking for team players. Itís not all about scoring. I think thatís the mindset of a lot of people who go out there. Itís like ĎIf I put points up, Iím going to be chosen.í Itís not about that. Theyíre looking for the best team. So, all I have to say is, whatever your role is, play your role, but donít try to do too much. Donít overthink it. I think thatís how a lot of people get lost in the crowd, when they overthink it. You just have to go out there and play your game, work hard, never take a break, be out there early taking shots and be a team player. Thatís what theyíre looking for.