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Follow My Lead

May 17, 2013 | Anthony Oliva, WNBA.com

Before she had her name in the Notre Dame record books, a deal with Jay-Z’s media agency and her own hashtags, Skylar Diggins was a big sister.

With no fewer than four younger siblings, Skylar was a role model long before she donned a Tulsa Shock -- or even a Notre Dame -- jersey.

“I can remember times when, you know, kids get to an age where it’s monkey see, monkey do, and you have to be a role model for them,” Diggins said. “I know (my siblings) were looking up to me and I just tried to be that example for them.”

Given that platform – by virtue of birth order – Diggins felt a responsibility to give her siblings a playbook for success.

“I’d try to do the right things for them and always do the things I said I was going to do,” she said. “Keep my word. Work hard. Be goal oriented. And do everything in my power to achieve my goals and kind of give them somebody to look up to and someone to be like.”

Growing up in South Bend, in the shadows of Notre Dame’s campus, Diggins had someone like that to look up to as well. In addition to her mother, who Diggins called the, “perfect example of a strong, humble, woman,” a young Skylar also admired Niele Ivey, then a point guard on Notre Dame’s women’s team, who won a National title in college and went on to play five years in the WNBA.

“She was always someone that I looked up to at a young age,” Diggins remembered. “She was right there in the city of South Bend and I just loved to watch her and the team play. I loved the way she took command of the game and was a great point guard and did all the things that as a player I wanted to become.”

When it came time for Diggins to play at Notre Dame herself, Ivey was the Recruiting Coordinator and then an assistant coach, focusing on the guards. Diggins said that her relationship with her former idol came full circle because Ivey “actually really played a crucial role in my development as a player.”

As Skylar's talent blossomed, her fame exploded. Therefore, given this rare platform -- by virtue of stature this time -- Diggins continued to play the role of big sister, just to a bigger audience.

“I just want to encourage the youth to try everything you want to try,” Diggins said. “I think that’s important, whether it be basketball or piano or art or whatever you want to do – try it. The more time you put into your craft, the better you’ll become at it. Stay focused on your goals and don’t let people try to pull you away for peripheral things. “

It only takes a casual scan of Diggins’ flourishing social networks to see the kind of impact she has on young people. Let's start, of course, with Twitter, where she is constantly sent messages like these.

Then there's Instagram, where fans flock to show Skylar how much she's inspired them. The most common example? Fans wearing Skylar's patented headband. See below for a few members of #headbandnation.

And, the above messages are fans that have socialized with Skylar in just the past few days.

The admiration poured on Diggins is deserved. It’s an all-too familiar cliche in sports, but Diggins is, by every account, a strong leader and consummate team player. So much so that -- even as a rookie in her first few weeks in camp -- she is starting to take the reigns on a young team.

“I think when I’m a point guard, I think I lead naturally,” Diggins said. “The position that I play, I’m play calling. I’m telling people where to go and things like that. I’m talking in the huddle, but as I get to know my teammates, I think I’ll settle into that role nicely.”

But Diggins -- who acknowledged the many past accomplishments of her teammates -- seems to understand the balance of leading her team and learning from the veterans.

“She’s someone who has been my rock, and everything that’s good that’s happened in my life, I can trace back to her.” - Skylar talking about her mom
“I’m just trying to learn from my teammates too and try to get to know them as much as I can just so they understand that I respect everything that they’ve done up to this point,” Diggins said. “I think that so far they’ve let me lead and be the player that I am. You’ve got to appreciate that.”

Through it all -- from Washington High School to the Tulsa Shock -- Diggins has also been extremely appreciative of her family. Her family was a key factor in her deciding to stay local and attend Notre Dame and not go to Stanford for college, and her family has continued to mold her into the inspirational person she is today.

And when it comes to role models, Diggins doesn't have to look any further than her mother.

“My mom was someone who always stuck with her values and fought for what she believed and who taught me those same values,” Diggins said. “She’s someone who has been my rock, and everything that’s good that’s happened in my life, I can trace back to her.”

Somewhere, whether with her siblings or an adoring fan, Diggins is having that same effect on someone else.

The circle continues.

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