Skylar Diggins-Smith grew up in South Bend, Indiana with Notre Dame in her backyard. She enjoyed a tremendously successful career with the Fighting Irish, compiling over 2,000 points, 500 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals, as well as back-to-back trips to the national championship game in 2011 and 2012.
With the NCAA tournament underway, and Notre Dame looking capable of another deep run, Diggins-Smith looks back on some memories growing up and competing on the biggest stages college basketball has to offer.
By Skylar Diggins-Smith, as told to WNBA.com
I’m always confident in my ladies at ND. I feel really good about this Notre Dame team in particular, though. They have been through a lot of adversity this year, especially when it comes to injuries. It says a lot that they are battling through the adversity. It helps to have the Hall of Fame coaching staff, but the leadership on the team, led by Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale, has been great. I think that they have a lot of talent and are determined to get the job done in this year’s tournament. I am really excited for them.
Growing up in South Bend, I had always loved Notre Dame.
My mom started bringing me to the women’s games when I was nine or 10. To couple that with the WNBA getting going and watching those ladies on TV, that is when I knew that I wanted to play basketball at the highest level. My mom is all about academics and stressing how important that is, so Notre Dame being a top institution in the country academically and athletically just made sense.
Everyone would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you pick UConn?’
I remember when I was getting recruited, there were so many people that came up to my mom and asked why she let me choose Notre Dame. I chose to go to Notre Dame to represent South Bend, and to be able to have my friends and family come to my games and support me. And I wanted to play against schools like UConn. I wanted to be able to play against those top-tier teams every night. I remember my freshman year, UConn had Maya Moore and Tina Charles on the same team. Think about that. Those are two MVPs in our league, and they were on the same team in college. At that moment, I was like, ‘Wow, this is real.’
What was so cool though was that, in playing against them, we got over fear.
With that program and the success that they historically have had, that can be intimidating and daunting at times. And for a lot of teams, you lose the battle because of all their success before you even play the game. Early on, coach Muffet McGraw conditioned us with treating every opponent with respect. Come tournament time, there are 64 teams. Being a 16 seed is not shady, as they are still a top-64 team in the nation. And if you don’t treat every opponent like that, you can come out and get beat. I know that this year is no different. Coach McGraw has these ladies ready to roll.
I remember being nervous before playing every game, a good nervous though. Because in March, it is a different ball game. You don’t have to be better than a team for a whole season. You only have to beat them for 40 minutes, so I remember every game regardless of the round, I was just ready to see that ball tip. I hated sitting around waiting.
I knew, though, that I wouldn’t have wanted to suit up and play for any other school. After growing up a fan, getting an opportunity to play for Notre Dame was a dream come true. I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.