Skylar Diggins' Quest For Gold
July 12, 2008 // Colorado Springs, Colo.
Skylar Diggins has been preparing for this moment since she began playing basketball on a Lil' Tykes hoop at age four. The rim was only 4-ft. high, but Diggins' passion for the game was sure to take her far. Now, belonging to a new crop of USA Basketball athletes, Diggins has been named to the USA Women's U18 National Team that will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 23-27, hoping to secure a fourth consecutive gold medal finish at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women. As she heads into her senior campaign at Washington High School (South Bend, Ind.) one thing remains certain: the bar that she has set for herself continues to climb.
Practically raised in a gym, Diggins began playing in an all-boys league for ages 8-9 when she was seven years old. Although she did not fully realize her love for the game until middle school, she grew up with a competitive spirit that never let her forget how much she hated to lose.
Although her father, Tige Diggins, was the first to introduce her to the gym, it was her stepfather, Maurice Scott-Shepard, who made sure she stayed there. The coach of Diggins' summer AAU team, Scott-Shepard is Skylar's greatest source of inspiration and has always emphasized the importance of letting frustrations go on the court.
'He says at times I can be my worst enemy because I put so much pressure on myself,' Diggins said. 'He has taught me how to relax and just play.'
Diggins, a 2008 Parade Magazine first-team and USA Today third-team All-American, averaged 29.5 ppg., 7.6 rpg. and 4.5 apg. in her junior campaign and helped the Panthers to a 23-3 record. Tallying 2,036 points in just three seasons, she is 76-6 in her prep career with three straight Class 4A state finals appearances, including a state championship in 2007.
In spite of all her success, the next year may prove to be the most crucial yet as Diggins readies herself for the collegiate level. While the Indiana native believes there is always room to improve her skill set, her emphasis for the upcoming season will be on her mental strength.
'Developing mental toughness will definitely be my greatest challenge,' Diggins said. 'That is something that comes with experience and you have to work on it daily. Sometimes you get caught up in the emotions of the game, but I need to just push myself and focus on the next play.'
Diggins says her experience with USA Basketball has already begun to prepare her for the next phase of her career. As one of the youngest players on the team, Diggins believes there is something to learn from each and every one of her teammates. 'We all come from different backgrounds and to be able to come together is an accomplishment in itself,' she said. 'It's a great opportunity to learn, and I plan on taking full advantage of it.'
In her first stint with the Red, White and Blue, Diggins aided the USA White Team to an unblemished 5-0 record to claim gold at the 2007 USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival. Eleven players belonging to the 2008 USA U18 roster took part in that event, and among them was Stafford, Texas, standout Kelsey Bone.
Before being named teammates on USA White, Diggins and Bone were roommates. Each arrived at camp only having heard of one another. Little did they know they would leave as friends.
'When the Festival ended, Kelsey got my e-mail address from a coach,' Diggins said. 'She started e-mailing me and soon we were talking on the phone. We have talked every day since. She is my best friend.'
Some might find it hard to understand how two young players, separated by nearly 1,200 miles can remain so close. But according to Diggins, when you share so much in common, it is easy to find a way.
'We're planning on going to school together,' Diggins said. 'It's kind of like we're partners helping each other through the recruiting process. Sometimes it can get tough, and I think having someone there with you who understands what you're going through, helps to take some of the pressure off.'
In late January, ESPN caught Diggins at a UConn-Notre Dame game holding a sign that read, 'Kelsey, Which 1?' The sign, of course, was directed towards her fellow USA teammate, who laughed when she saw the sign from home.
'It was meant to be an inside joke between Kelsey and me,' Diggins said. At the time, both Diggins and Bone had been the subject of internet speculation regarding their college finalists. 'Everyone was saying that Kelsey had already chosen UConn and because I live so close, that I had chosen to attend Notre Dame and that it was a done deal for both of us. I knew Kelsey was watching and somehow I got on TV with the sign.'
Diggins and Bone are two of four rising high school seniors on the 2008 USA U18 roster. The other pair of high school seniors named to the team were Kelly Faris (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Joslyn Tinkle (Missoula, Mont.). Faris is the only one of the four to make a verbal commitment thus far. The 5-11 forward will look to join the Huskies at UConn in the fall of 2009-10; but the question on everyone's mind is, will a certain fellow Indiana native be joining her? Although Diggins wrote the sign herself, she would advise that you can't necessarily believe everything you read.
No matter what her final decision may be, Diggins affirms it will be her own. Although she would like to continue playing with her USA teammates beyond this summer in Argentina, she understands that what is best for her teammates may not be what is best for her. 'I plan to take everything into consideration before making the decision,' she said.
The U18 National Team will train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., from July 10-16 and in Washington, D.C. July 17-20. The Americas zone qualifier, which features six teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, is slated for July 23-27. The top four finishing teams qualify for the 2009 FIBA U19 Women's World Championship, which will be held July 23-Aug. 2 in Bangkok, Thailand.