ESPN.com - We've heard it all before. Maya Moore was the future of women's basketball. (Quick! What team does she play for now?) So was dunking phenom Candace Parker. Before them were the fiery Diana Taurasi, the lethally explosive Sheryl Swoopes and the glamorous Lisa Leslie -- all of them projected to lead us to the promised land, a place where aging meatheads finally appreciate the beauty of women's sports. But this time, we mean it. Skylar Diggins is changing the game. She demands attention. On the court, the 5'9" southpaw pushes the pace, finds the open teammate, gets in people's faces, finishes in the paint, takes the big shot. At the end of March, Notre Dame was just another team chasing Tennessee and Connecticut. One week later, in a three-game stretch during March Madness, Diggins scored 24 points in an upset of Tennessee, 28 to upend top-seeded UConn in the Final Four and then 23 in Notre Dame's loss to Texas A&M in the title game. Along the way, the TV audience for the 2011 NCAA women's tournament increased by 16 percent from the previous year. Moore and Parker and Taurasi all had great tourney runs too. None of them, however, had Lil Wayne tweeting them best wishes before the biggest game of their career. When Weezy sent this burst into the ether -- "Good lukk to my wife Skylar Diggins and the Fighting Irish" -- before Diggins faced off against UConn, it altered the women's hoops landscape. Diggins' Twitter following swelled from 5,000 before the tournament to nearly 65,000 just after the national title game. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Garnett sang her praises as a player. Lil Wayne performed wearing her jersey. John Wall sent her virtual air kisses. All of this brings us to another undeniable fact about Skylar Diggins: She is attractive. And she's attractive with a growing profile in a privacy-challenged world. Fair or not, there are superficial reasons for some of the attention she's receiving. That is not lost on Diggins. "People are like, 'Hold on, this is different,'" she says. "'She's getting 40 points, what?' They don't expect me to be like that on the court. I don't know what they expect a hooper to look like, but obviously it wasn't me." Diggins is now in that middle ground between being a normal 21-year-old college athlete and being a burgeoning superstar. And as part of a generation raised on social media and its power to gift instant fame, she is comfortable with that. Her response to the Weezy shout-out? She thanked him and called him "husband." Following the Lil Wayne exchange in the spring, a Diggins tweet became a trending topic within hours. Soon after that, Notre Dame called on media consultant Kathleen Hessert for guidance. When asked about the player's appeal, Hessert referenced the book The Attention Economy, which makes the argument that the global economy's new currency is the ability to capture people's increasingly fractured attention. She considers the book her bible, but she pushes the idea a step further. "We've moved from the attention economy to an attraction economy," says Hessert, whose clients include ESPN Plus and Auburn University athletics. "It's no longer enough to get attention. You have to attract people. And social media, combined with a presence like Skylar, attracts people to the sport, to the team, to her personal brand in a way that could never happen before. People who never followed women's basketball are following it because of Skylar."
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- Linebacker Manti Te'o was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Football Club announced Tuesday ... the Bednarik Award is presented to college football's best defensive player ... Te'o leads the Irish with 82 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and four and a half sacks ... he has already set career highs this year in tackles for loss and sacks ... Te'o has recorded at least 10 tackles in six of eight games this year and he leads the Irish in solo tackles, assisted tackles and tackles on running plays ... among all middle or inside linebackers in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, Te'o ranks tied for first in solo tackles for loss, tied for first in solo sacks, second in total sacks,second in total tackles for loss, second in tackles for loss per game and third in sacks per game. - The LSU-Alabama game this weekend has prompted lots of revisiting of previous No. 1 vs. No. 2 college games ... SI.com's Richard Rothschild rated the best previous regular-season collisions based on quality of the game, impact on the season and long-term ramifications - and he put 1946 Notre Dame-Army 10th on his list, 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State sixth and 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State fifth. - Through eight games, Notre Dame's Tommy Rees has completed 179 passes for an average of 22.375 per game ... if Rees continues that pace and the Irish play 13 games, Rees would finish with 291 completions - one short of Brady Quinn's Notre Dame single-season record of 292 from 2005 ... Rees has played only about the equivalent of one full season, but his career .641 pass completion percentage is the best in Notre Dame history ... he needs one more TD pass to match (1943 Heisman Trophy winner) Angelo Bertelli's career total and four more to catch Joe Theismann at 31. - Michael Floyd ranks second nationally among active players in career pass receptions and career reception yards ... through eight games he has caught 63 balls - for an average of 7.875 per game ... if he continues that pace and the Irish play 13 games he would finish with 102 catches (which would easily eclipse Golden Tate's Irish single-season record of 93 from 2009) ... Floyd currently has 1,025 receiving yards (128.125 per game) - which would project to 1,665 over 13 games (better than Tate's single-season Notre Dame record of 1,496 from 2009). - Saturday is the seventh annual National College Football Day, originally created by the Cotton Bowl Classic. - Anders Lee has been selected as the RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month for October ... the 6-3, 227-pound left wing has helped the fourth-ranked Irish get off to a strong 5-2 start this season as he has scored at least one goal in all seven games, with a two-goal effort and a hat trick thrown in for good measure ... after seven contests, Lee leads both the conference and the nation with 10 goals and has added three assists for 13 points.
Less than seven months after a captivating run to the NCAA national championship game, Notre Dame returns to the court at 7:00 p.m. (ET) tonight as the second-ranked Fighting Irish play host to the reigning Canadian national champion, the University of Windsor, in an exhibition game at Purcell Pavilion. Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation. Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem. Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.
- Melissa Henderson scored in the ninth minute off a pinpoint service by junior defender Jazmin Hall and Notre Dame used a stellar defensive performance to defeat No. 5/9 Marquette, 1-0, in a BIG EAST Conference Championship quarterfinal women's soccer match on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Valley Fields in Milwaukee ... Henderson's goal -- her career high-tying 18th of the season, and 70th of her brilliant career, as well as a school-record 24th career match-winning goal -- lifted the Fighting Irish into the BIG EAST Championship semifinals for the 15th time in Notre Dame's 17 years as a conference member ... the Fighting Irish will square off with BIG EAST National Division champion Louisville in a tournament semifinal match at 3 p.m. (ET) Friday in Morgantown, W.Va., with CBS Sports Network televising the contest live from Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. - Less than 24 hours after an exhausting five-set defeat at Connecticut, Notre Dame recovered to down host St. John's, 3-1 (25-19, 17-25, 25-22, 25-20) in BIG EAST Conference volleyball action Sunday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y. ... with its fourth straight win in the 19-match series with the Red Storm, Notre Dame concluded its recent road escapades that spanned 11,309 miles in the air and on the road since Oct. 8 ... coming through with a second straight double-double - and her sixth of the season - was Kristen Dealy, who led the Irish with 15 kills (.378) ... Dealy also had 11 digs and a pair of blocks. - The men's soccer team closes its regular season at noon (ET) today at Alumni Stadium against Seton Hall - and the Irish are hoping a win in that one would translate into a home play-in game Thursday in the BIG EAST Championships. - The men's golf team closes its fall season today at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas. - Notre Dame's basketball teams kick off their seasons with exhibition games this week - the men at 7:30 p.m. (ET) tonight against St. Xavier and the #2-rated (AP) women at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Windsor (Ontario) ... both games are at Purcell Pavilion. - District Academic All-America ballots feature five Irish women's soccer players, four football players and two men's soccer players.
Yesterday, the NCAA released Graduation Success Rates for Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Of those 120 institutions, Notre Dame achieved the best marks, with 18 of 22 Irish athletic teams achieving 100 GSR scores. Notre Dame was one of only eight institutions to have at least 50 percent of teams achieve perfection. The Notre Dame football team achieved a 97 GSR, the highest among FBS schools. Northwestern, Boston College, Duke, Rice and the U.S. Naval Academy were the only other institutions with at least 90 or higher. In addition, both the men's and women's basketball teams were among the programs with perfect GSR scores. The hockey team achieved a 95 GSR rating, second only to Air Force. This release from the NCAA probably comes as no surprise to most people at Notre Dame. Still, it is news that should make anyone associated with the university and athletic department proud. The university and its rabid fan base, alumni and student body expect to contend for and win championships, and Notre Dame has, in several sports. However, football is king for many people, and a lot of fans won't be satisfied until the Irish are hoisting that crystal ball in January. However, in the age of NCAA sanctions, player suspensions, reduced scholarships and bowl ineligibility, Notre Dame continues to do it the right way. Notre Dame graduates its players. Notre Dame is committed to both academic and athletic excellence. And Notre Dame is not going to sacrifice its core values in the pursuit of titles, trophies and other accolades. At Notre Dame, athletes are not just quarterbacks, forwards, shortstops, jumpers, swimmers and goalies, but future doctors, lawyers and business people, getting the job done in the classroom. They are student-athletes. Most of them will "go pro in something other than sports." It has been quite some time since Notre Dame has even been in the discussion for a football national championship, but the Irish are slowly progressing towards those goals, and will make it back to the BCS conversation. In the meantime, take pride in the fact that Notre Dame represents the good in college sports. - Josh Flynt ('11)
ESPN.com - Skylar Diggins ascended to the top of her sport by being herself. Leading a preseason national title contender, having nearly 120,000 people follow her on Twitter and seeing her name spread from the sports pages to the gossip pages is not going to change that approach. "I think that with the expectations means raising the bar, but it doesn't mean changing myself or being anything different or conforming to what society wants me to do or whatever," Diggins said. "In the same breath, I understand that people are watching me and I'm a role model ... And I welcome any challenges to that, and I'm just having fun with it. I'm enjoying it. It's not becoming a job, so I'm happy to be here." For now, Diggins' job is to take a Notre Dame team coming off a national title game appearance to the next step. The goal is simple. "Last season we were the bridesmaids," Diggins said, "and this season we wanna be the bride." The Final Four in Denver is six long months away, however, and controlling the circus around Diggins between now and then might be an exercise in and of itself. Diggins became a national sensation during last year's six-game NCAA tournament run, averaging 19.3 points, more than five points per game better than her regular-season average. Since then, speculation has run rampant around the South Bend native's dating life -- rap giant Lil Wayne wore her jersey on stage during an April concert -- while she has grown from a local celebrity to a national one. Irish coach Muffet McGraw has never seen anything like it in her 25 years at the helm of the program. "I think the whole social media thing has changed so tremendously that nobody probably has seen; it is just so new to see what she's going through," McGraw said. "I used to look at Brady Quinn. He was the guy I would look at and go like, 'The guy can't even go in the dining hall and get a sandwich without somebody trying to get an autograph for somebody else.' And I thought, 'Boy, that's a shame you can't even be a kid.' And that's what it's turned into for her, because she can't really go a lot of places locally. "Everybody knows her, and everybody's so nice when she's out, but you can't be just a kid that wants to go to a movie. Everything's magnified, whatever you do. Fortunately she's a good kid and she's always on her best behavior, but you can't even really goof off like a normal kid would wanna do sometimes." Notre Dame has taken precautions to not overwork Diggins, who won a gold medal this summer in China with Irish teammates Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters on the USA World University Games team. Diggins will be limited to one day of interviews per week this season. McGraw, whom Diggins joked would never get a Twitter account, said she has no problem with Diggins' social media use as long as the junior handles it like an adult. The coaching staff takes players' phones on road trips at night. McGraw has found amusement in this generation's attachment to technology, jokingly deleting some of her own messages in front of Diggins as a demonstration of how to say no. She has plenty of help, however, with Diggins' family being so close by, something that Diggins feels has helped quell the pressure rather than increase it. "I feel like I'm more comfortable because I'm in front of family and friends and familiar faces," Diggins said. "I feel like I know everybody in South Bend or I talk to everybody in South Bend, so it's great being home. "And to have my family close enough to where if it gets heavy or if I need a break, I can go home. But at the same time they allow me to grow and develop into an adult and have the college experience but be right there to share it with me as well." Which might explain why Diggins has embraced the attention, brushing aside any suggestions that all the adulation and requests might have somehow diminished the joy of growing up. "I feel like a kid again," Diggins said. "I'm 21, but I feel like I'm 13, 9, 8 when I get out on the court because I'm having fun. College can make some people lose their passion because of the pressure, because of the expectations, because of the workload, but I'm having fun. Not only while I'm learning but being a part of Notre Dame, the academic side of it, the community, the tradition. I'm home. So I'm comfortable, and then when I step out on the court I feel like a kid in a candy store."
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