If anyone could have envisioned UConn women’s basketball’s shocking loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four last week, it was probably former Notre Dame star point guard Skylar Diggins.
Diggins and the Fighting Irish, prior to the Bulldogs’ improbable win, was the top player on the last team to beat the Huskies in the tournament — the 2011-2012 Notre Dame team — before embarking on a successful WNBA career.
Prior to Mississippi State’s upset for the ages, Diggins, who is working with the 2017 Allstate Women's Basketball Coaches AssociationGood Works Team — which recognizes 10 women's college basketball players for their commitment to service and leadership —spoke with Sporting News about UConn, rehabilitating from a torn ACL, Candice Wiggins’ comments about heterosexuals in the WNBA and more.
SN: So, is Notre Dame a basketball school now?
SD:Oh, it’s always been a basketball school. But man, recently, you’re not supposed to bring up our football program, remember? But, [Notre Dame women’s basketball], what a heartbreaker of a loss to Stanford. I had the [Notre Dame] men going all the way to the Final Four. I was like, this is their year, they’re going to the Final Four. Couldn’t get over that hump, though.
SN: Notre Dame star point guard Lindsay Allen’s career just ended, what was your relationship with her like?
SD:I think early in Lindsay’s career, I would go to practice sometimes, I would go to games, I would talk to L.A. But even when she was getting recruited, what I would always notice about her is that she had a great demeanor and air about her, so she’s very confident, she’s very sure and she’s very smart and level-headed.
And that’s why she was able to come right into the program with very high expectations obviously after our class left, and she came in right away in her first year and led the team. And she’ll definitely always be considered one of the best point guards and eventually in the Ring of Honor in Notre Dame with what she accomplished. And I think she’ll be great in the league too. I think any team that picksher this year, she’ll definitely be a pick in this draft, and whoever picks her is going to get a great point guard.
SN: Do you think UConn’s recent dominance is good or bad for the sport?
SD:Iwould say more the former than the latter. I don’t see it being bad all to be honest. It definitely sets the bar. They’re the best until somebody beats them. And you definitely still have been seeing more parity in the women’s game, even in the tournament. Two double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16. This has definitely been the most competitive tournament I’ve seen in a long time. I think that’s what people just want to see— great basketball. And they play great basketball.
SN: When you were at Notre Dame, you clearly weren’t intimidated by UConn, beating them twice in the tournament. How did your team view the Huskies?
SD:There was so much talent [when I played]. I got right into the Big East and played some of the most talented players and some of the most talented teams in the league, like [Georgetown’s] Sugar Rodgers, on our team Kayla McBride, Devereaux Peters and Jewell Loyd, the list goes on and on. And then on UConn, Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, those are the players that I played against in the Big East. It was competitive, so competitive. We got to know them because we had to play them so much in conference. Other teams see them one time, but we got to play them a few times [a year]. We played them up to four times a year. We really didn’t have any element of surprise or intimidation. We knew what to expect and we knew what we were gonna get from the team.
SD:What is your relationship with Geno Auriemma like?
SN:Obviously, you have to be a great coach to recruit, to bring in talent to coach talent together, to develop players. And so many of his players have been successful at the next level, so it says a lot about his coaching and their staff, year after year, getting players and developing them and having them play together. Obviously, my experiences with USA Basketball with the national team, to be around him and see it from the other side of his coaching style and you see why his teams are so successful.
SD: What did you make of Candice Wiggins’ comments saying that she was bullied in the WNBA for being heterosexual? Did you have any similar experiences?
SN:You’re trying to stir the pot! Everybody is a different personality. Everybody has their own experiences with different co-workers, just like any work environment. So what I would say to that is that Candace’s story is her story. Her story is her story. If it starts a conversation that can change our league in a positive way, that’s great. But everybody has their story, and I’m glad that we are encouraging everybody to speak up and tell their story.
SD: Was your season kind of hectic between the Shock moving to Dallas and your recovery from a torn ACL?
SN:I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think moving to Dallas was stressful at all. I think it was great. The city made it really easy on us right away for the team in embracing us. I was so excited for it. What was tedious, if you will, was the rehabilitation process in itself. Just understanding that you have to come back from something and you have to start over with learning how to walk and jog and run, that process was a little more tedious. But the move was great and the response was great.
SD: How much will having a full offseason being healthy benefit your game this offseason?
SN:I’m always confident. Who knows? I’m feeling great. I think it’s all about understanding that it’s a process. Just getting my timing down, my rhythm down [after recovering last year] I knew it was going to take time. That’s what everybody told me, so many women in the league have told me it was going to take some time. That first season is all about getting your legs back underneath you, and the timing and the rhythm. But I’m feeling great, and I’m looking forward to this season, and I’m looking forward to being healthy. That’s something you can’t take for granted.