May 18, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame women's basketball incoming freshman Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) has been selected as one of 14 finalists for the 2009 USA Basketball U19 World Championship Team, it was announced late Sunday by the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee, chaired by Sue Donohoe, the NCAA's vice president for Division I women's basketball. The choices were made from a field of 27 players ages 19-and-under (born on or after Jan. 1, 1990) that competed in three days of trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
The remaining U19 finalists will return to Colorado Springs on July 9 to begin training for the 16-team FIBA U19 World Championship For Women, scheduled for July 23-Aug. 2 in Bangkok, Thailand. The 12-member USA U19 World Championship Team, which will be finalized prior to the squad's departure for southeast Asia, will be coached by Northern Illinois skipper (and former Notre Dame aide) Carol Owens, with Iowa State's Bill Fennelly (another former Irish assistant) and Florida's Amanda Butler serving on Owens' staff.
"I don't know what they were expecting out of me so I just tried to come out here and do my best," Diggins said. "Knowing how the process went, after being here last year, I kind of knew what to expect and what they wanted. That was easier, knowing what they wanted. But as far as getting out here and playing, everyone wanted to make it and everyone was competing really hard, so I don't think it was easy at all.
"(I'm looking to) just filling in whatever role the coaches ask me to fill, trying to stay vocal," she continued. "Trying to encourage my teammates, get out there and try to play as hard as I can. Getting touches on the ball defensively and just trying to run the offense. I think everybody has a role on this team and hopefully everybody can settle into that role."
Word of Diggins' selection as a U19 finalist spread halfway around the world to Rome, Italy, where Irish head coach Muffet McGraw and her current charges are wrapping up a 10-day European tour.
"This is an exciting time, both for Skylar and Notre Dame women's basketball," McGraw said. "We are incredibly proud of all that Skylar already has accomplished and we believe the best is yet to come. We're confident she will attack this challenge with the same focus and determination that she has shown throughout her career and in the end, she and the rest of Team USA will bring home the gold."
Should Diggins be selected for the final 12-member USA U19 World Championship Team, she will be the sixth Notre Dame women's basketball player, and the fourth in six years, to compete for the United States on the international level. Most recently, current Irish senior point guard Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph's) struck gold with the 2007 U19 World Championship Team that rolled to a 9-0 record -- Lechlitner also became the first South Bend-area female to earn a gold medal in international basketball competition.
Other recent representatives of the Notre Dame women's basketball program to compete on the world stage include: Megan Duffy, who claimed a gold medal as a co-captain and starter for the 2005 USA World University Games Team, and Ruth Riley, who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Senior National Team that struck gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Riley also made prior USA Basketball appearances in 1998 (Select Team) and 1999 (World University Games Team), while former Irish All-Americans Katryna Gaither (two teams, two medals) and Beth Morgan (four teams, three medals) also have suited up for Team USA. All told, Notre Dame players have earned 10 medals in international competition, including five gold medals.
Diggins is no stranger to USA Basketball, having earned gold medals at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, as well as the 2008 FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the latter event, she started all five games for the Owens-led United States squad, which went 5-0 and successfully qualified for this year's U19 World Championship For Women. During the U18 Americas tourney, Diggins averaged 10.8 ppg. (second on team), 3.2 rpg., 3.6 apg. (first on team) and 2.0 spg. (tied-first on team). She also ranked among the top 10 in the entire tournament in scoring (10th), field goal percentage (7th - .500), assists (2nd), steals (tied-8th) and assist/turnover ratio (2nd - 2.00).
At the `07 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival, Diggins helped the USA White Team to a 5-0 record, averaging 8.6 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 3.2 apg., and 2.0 spg., during the round-robin tournament. What's more, among all 2007 Festival participants, she ranked second in assist/turnover ratio (1.45), fourth in assists (16), tied for eighth in blocks (4) and tied for 10th in steals (10).
"It means a lot (to represent the United States)," Diggins said. "I didn't really understand it until I went overseas to Argentina last year. You are USA, and a lot of people look at you in awe when you get over there. To have those three letters across your chest, it's an honor and definitely a privilege and one that has a lot of work involved in it. We want to go over there, and we want to win. I know a lot of people expect nothing less than gold from the United States. That's what we're looking to bring back."
Diggins recently completed a stellar career at Washington High School in South Bend, capped off last month with Most Valuable Player honors at both the McDonald's High School All-America Game and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Game -- only former Tennessee standout Alexis Hornbuckle had previously won both MVP awards. She also was the consensus 2009 national high school player of the year, earning top billing from Gatorade, the Atlanta Tipoff Club (which presents the Naismith National High School Player of the Year award), ESPN Hoopgurlz and MaxPreps.
Diggins' prep career may go down as one of the most storied in state history, after she led Washington High School to its fourth consecutive Indiana Class 4A state championship game appearance in 2009, making WHS one of only four schools ever to pull off that feat. In her four years on South Bend's "West Side," the Panthers posted a staggering 102-7 (.936) record, winning the 2007 4A state title (the first girls' crown by a South Bend public school).
While helping WHS to a 26-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking (by ESPN Hoopgurlz) for much of this season, Diggins led the state in scoring at 29.0 points per game, while adding 6.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 5.4 steals and 2.2 blocks per game (ranking sixth in the state in steals and eighth in assists). What's more, she was an exceptional shooter, connecting at a .616 clip (207-of-336) from the field, including a .406 mark (56-of-138) from three-point range. All told, she piled up 14 30-point games this season, with three coming in the state tournament, including a season-high 38 points in a semi-state victory over Pendleton Heights. She also tallied two double-doubles and one triple-double (nearly a quadruple-double) this year, amassing 28 points, 12 assists, 12 steals and nine rebounds in a season-opening win over LaPorte on Nov. 15.
A four-time high school All-American (including unanimous first-team honors in 2009), a four-time all-state selection and a runaway choice as this year's Indiana Miss Basketball, Diggins finished her career with 2,790 points, good for third in Indiana high school history behind only Shanna Zolman and Stephanie White. Overall, she averaged 25.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 4.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, holding Washington High School records in just about every meaningful category, including career and single-season points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. In addition, she owns 4A state championship game records with 17 rebounds (vs. Columbus East in 2007) and four three-pointers made (vs. Castle in 2006), as well as three of the top six scoring performances in the Class 4A title game, including a 29-point effort in this year's 71-69 last-second loss to co-national No. 1 squad, Ben Davis High School, before more than 13,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in a game many have called the greatest in state history.
Diggins is one of three U19 World Championship Team finalists with BIG EAST ties, along with Connecticut incoming freshman Kelly Faris and Pittsburgh sophomore Shawnice Wilson. The complete roster of the finalists for this year's U19 National Team can be found on the USA Basketball web site (www.usabasketball.com).
"I thought the trials went really well, each session got better and better," Owens said. "I'm excited about our team. I think our strength will be our transition game, in particular our posts I think will be very good. We have some scorers obviously, I'm excited to get them in training camp to work on our defenses and get our offenses going. We don't have a lot of time to put this team together but we have a mature group and I think we'll be ready to play."
"The competition level was very high," Donohoe added. "You had tremendous talent out on the floor. It was a fun trials to just sit and watch the quality play of these young women. If there was anything surprising at all it was the intensity level that these young women kept throughout the trials. Sometimes you come in and they go through a session or two and they start getting tired and that intensity level drops. What we saw during these trials was the intensity level seemed to pick up with each training session and that made our decision a little bit more difficult.
FIBA, basketball's international governing body, announced on Feb. 26 the draw for the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship For Women, and the USA has been placed in Group D, along with China, Mali and Spain. After round-robin play, the top three teams in each of the four groups will advance to second-round pool play (two groups of six teams), with the top four squads in each second-round division moving on to the medal round. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be played on consecutive days from July 31-Aug. 2, with the gold medal game slated for 7 a.m. ET (6 p.m. in Thailand) on Aug. 2 at the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years beginning in 1985. FIBA then changed its calendar in 2005, with the tournament since having been conducted every other year. USA women's teams are 41-10 in the U19/Junior World Championships, coming home with a record-setting three golds and one bronze, all in the past four tournaments (1997, 2001, 2005, 2007). During its current run of success that started in `97, the United States has amassed a sharp 29-2 record in U19/Junior World Championship play, including an active 18-game winning streak since a 92-88 upset loss to the host Czech Republic in the 2001 semifinals.