Nov. 15, 2012
By Sean Kaveney -
The University of Notre Dame is certainly a place unlike any other. The University's influence spreads across the country and throughout the world.
Notre Dame has an unparalleled ability to foster deep and lasting connections and relationships, whether it's between students, faculty members, alumni, Fighting Irish fans or any other supporters of the gold and blue. This is why coming to Notre Dame was never a tough decision for women's basketball senior point guard Skylar Diggins, as she understands the importance of having strong relationships.
"I think the people here are really what makes Notre Dame such an amazing place," she says. "All of these people are responsible for making me the woman that I am today."
Diggins is surely practiced at the art of building connections. Her Twitter account has over 275,000 followers, making her the most followed NCAA student-athlete in the world. She hasn't shied away from becoming a spokesperson for the University and for the women's basketball team. Instead, she has jumped at the opportunity to represent her school in front of such a wide audience.
"I feel blessed to have the opportunity to represent Notre Dame and to represent our terrific fan base," Diggins says. "Social media is great not only because it is a great way to promote the University, but also because it provides a direct connection between the fans and the players."
Diggins' connections with the University did not begin to form when she arrived on campus as a freshman, but actually long before. Notre Dame has always been a special place for the basketball standout. She spent her entire life in South Bend, and there was never any doubt in her mind as to where she wanted to spend her college days.
It was as a young girl that Diggins first became captivated by Fighting Irish basketball. She would often come with her family and friends to watch the Irish play at the Joyce Center.
"It has really been an unbelievable experience for me," she says. "I came to watch the games all the time when I was younger, and for me to now have the opportunity to play for the school that I have always loved so much is still pretty hard to believe."
According to Diggins, growing up as a member of the Notre Dame fan base has allowed her to develop a uniquely close relationship with the Irish faithful.
"I love being able to see all the fans that have supported me throughout my life," Diggins says. "I feel like I know everybody in South Bend. I feel like I know every fan. I've been around them for so long, and they have always been so consistent and loyal."
And one would be hard-pressed to argue with her. The Irish fans are known for their unwavering loyalty and ability to consistently pack Purcell Pavilion.
"We could be playing a mid-major school during a blizzard, but we always know that the fans are going to show up," Diggins says. "We have the best fans in the country."
Often young fans of a particular sports team will have a favorite player that they look up to and try to emulate. Diggins was no different. When she was watching from the stands at the Joyce Center, her favorite player was point guard Niele Ivey.
"She was such an amazing point guard," Diggins says. "I always knew that I wanted to be just like her."
While playing for the Irish, Ivey became the true embodiment of success. An All-American, she led the Irish to a 109-22 record during her four years, and managed the game like nobody else could, scoring 1,430 points and tallying 727 career assists. Diggins was able to see the career of her idol unfold before her eyes as she cheered on Ivey and the rest of the Irish en route to the 2001 NCAA National Championship.
Now, 12 years removed from the `01 title run, Diggins finds herself no longer cheering on the Irish from the stands, but rather leading them on the court just as her hero did years before. After an illustrious career as a player, Ivey now finds herself leading the next generation of student-athletes as an assistant coach for the Irish. The seemingly perfect match of player and coach are now working on the same team towards a common goal, and Diggins has undoubtedly seized the opportunity to learn under somebody who has seen it all.
"She is teaching me not only how to be a better basketball player, but also how to be a better person," Diggins says of her coach. "She was always my favorite player growing up, so for me to get the opportunity to work with her and talk with her as much as I want is really a dream come true."
With the help of a very deep support staff, Diggins has done a lot of growing up in the time she has spent at Notre Dame. She has become the undisputed face of the Irish women's basketball program, and even one of the most important representatives for the entire sport of women's basketball. A role like this would seem daunting to some, but not for Diggins.
"I am just trying to be myself through it all," she says. "I think that is why people look up to me. I feel like I have always been myself, I have had fun with all of these experiences, and that makes everything I do a lot easier to handle."
While Diggins is recognized for her electric play on the court, her list of talents certainly does not stop there. She spent this past summer working for ESPN, gaining a new perspective on the world of sports. There she developed an affinity for working in front of a camera. She also could see herself working in the world of fashion and cosmetics.
"I have a ton of things going on right now," she says. "I want to do a lot of things. I would love to say that I am going to think outside the box, but I don't even want to think that there is a box."
It would appear that there is no limit to the things that Diggins could accomplish following her senior year. The future is wide open for her, and she gives no shortage of credit to Notre Dame and the game of basketball for opening so many doors for her.
For the time being though, Diggins realizes the importance of cherishing her senior year in South Bend. Her time here has seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye, and one person who may have the toughest time seeing the Irish captain go is her head coach, Muffet McGraw.
"I feel like it was just yesterday that she came in as a freshman," McGraw says of her point guard. "She has had so many big moments here, and has done so many great things for our program. It is going to be a very difficult and a very emotional senior night."
While the entire Notre Dame community will watch her go with heavy hearts, they can take solace in the fact that they still have another fantastic season of Notre Dame basketball with Diggins at the helm. And with her multitude of talents, it is hard to believe that she will not continue to represent the University and her hometown in the very best of ways, regardless of what she finds herself doing down the road.
Although it is possible that Diggins' ambitions will land her far from South Bend, a few things that will always remain are the lifelong relationships she has formed and the everlasting influence that she has left upon her school. Her story is just beginning to unfold. But no matter where life takes her, Skylar Diggins will never forget everyone who has helped her along the way.
"Notre Dame has been everything I could have ever imagined," she says. "I have met some of my best friends and mentors here, and I will never be able to thank them enough for everything they have done for me. I am going to miss everything about this place."