WNBA: Diggins has no shortage of fan support

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Several bus loads of fans wore bright yellow T-shirts that boldly proclaimed, “Can You Digg it?”

Other fans wore Tulsa Shock “Diggins 4” T-shirts, Notre Dame Skylar Diggins ‘4’ jerseys, and the trademark lime green T-shirts supporting the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.

In all, at least 12 busloads of fans and countless others drove over from South Bend to cheer on the city’s favorite basketball daughter, Skylar Diggins, as she and her Tulsa Shock teammates faced the Chicago Sky at Allstate Arena.

“The traffic coming up here was crazy. It was all for Skylar, right?” Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw joked. “Isn’t it amazing? Somebody went to the game in New York and said that she got the biggest ovation. There are (12) busloads, people driving up. She is such a draw. She’s so worth the trip.”

When the lineups were introduced, it was clear that Diggins owned the crowd, even though Tulsa was playing on the Sky’s home court.

A thunderous ovation greeted Diggins during the introduction of the starting lineups. When Diggins scored, dished an assist or made a steal, the decibels skyrocketed at Allstate Arena.

“The fans were great,” Diggins said. “Notre Dame has the greatest fan base in the country and they do a great job of traveling. They’re like my family. I’m not surprised that the fans turned out like that. They’re always very supportive, no matter where I am. It was great seeing my friends and family. It was good to see some familiar faces.”

Despite a 92-71 Tulsa loss, the passion for Diggins never diminished among her fans, who probably accounted for more than a thousand of the 6,811 in attendance.

Diggins had a Q and A session with several hundred fans after the game at Allstate, and shed some tears as she thanked the fans.

Diggins’ stepfather, Moe Scott, said that Diggins understands the importance of a sincere relationship with the fans.

“This is real nice,” Scott said of the massive turnout for Diggins. “We’re really excited and thankful. We have great fans in South Bend. We couldn’t ask for a better turnout.

“Skylar gets it. She always thanks South Bend, the city, the University of Notre Dame. She understands everything that has been put in it. All of these fans are part of who she is. Skylar touched the lives of the fans, but they touched her life. She understands that, and she’s very excited about this turnout.”

Emotional moment

Diggins had an emotional moment as she ran off the court to go to the Shock locker room after the game. She was stopped by McGraw and Irish assistant Niele Ivey, who gave her hugs and consoling words.

“They always encourage me,” Diggins said. “They’re great. I wish I had another year with them. I wish I didn’t have to leave Notre Dame. They’re amazing. Those women have been so influential in my life and helping me become the player I am today.

“They know exactly what to say to me to make me feel better. It was great seeing them. I wish I could move the Tulsa Shock and all the fans to South Bend, and have them at every game.”

A whirlwind stretch

Diggins played a marathon schedule for Notre Dame, capped by the Final Four in April. Then, in rapid succession, Diggins was drafted, graduated, signed with ROC Nation, reported to Tulsa to have less than a week to learn a new system, and has played in two exhibition games and four regular-season games in less than two months.

“I think Skylar is handling it well,” Scott said of all the demands on her time. “There’s been a lot, and she hasn’t had any time to get a break or a breather, but she’s handling it well. She’s remained very professional. I think Notre Dame had a lot to do with helping her transition very well and preparing her for this.”

Supporting Skylar

Notre Dame sophomore Jewell Loyd attended Sunday’s game to offer support for Diggins.

“I live five minutes away, so it’s really nice to be her to support my old teammate, Skylar, and to support the Chicago Sky,” Loyd said. “Whitney Holloway is here, Kaila Turner is here … it was close for Chicago people to come here and support Skylar.

“Skylar is my ‘big sis.’ She was always there for me. I have to be here to cheer her on. Plus, it’s a good opportunity for me to learn. Hopefully, I’ll be here three years from now.”

Panther friends

Diggins’ teammates from her state championship team at South Bend Washington showed up at Allstate Arena in full force to cheer on Diggins.

Ashley Varner, who played with Diggins on the Panthers’ 2007 state championship team, said that she knew Panther and Irish fans would help pack Allstate Arena.

“I’m not surprised at all at the number of fans here for Skylar,” Varner said. “I knew a lot of people were going to come, especially since Chicago is so close.”

Tulsa Shock rookie Skylar Diggins holds a question and answer session with fans following Sunday's WNBA game against the Chicago Sky. At least 12 busloads of fans from South Bend attended the game in Rosemont, Ill.