Notre Dame women's basektball: Long year may have hurt Diggins

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Skylar Diggins briefly allowed herself to reflect on her legendary Notre Dame women’s basketball career to celebrate her induction into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, but her focus is on making sure that her basketball career after Notre Dame is equally impressive.

Diggins finished a marathon 2012-2013 NCAA season in which she led Notre Dame to a 35-2 record and a third consecutive appearance in the Final Four. She was drafted third overall by the Tulsa Shock and by May 9, was playing in the WNBA.

Diggins then went through a shock of her own. Used to striving for basketball’s gold standard – Diggins played in four state championship games at South Bend Washington High School, and played in two national championship games at Notre Dame – she suffered through a losing season with Tulsa. The Shock finished 11-23, last in the WNBA’s six-team Western Conference.

In Diggins’ inaugural season, she averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 assists. Her shooting percentages were down from her college numbers. She hit .328 percent of her field-goal attempts, and .244 of her 3-point shots. She played in 32 games, but didn’t start 11 of them. In her final season at Notre Dame, Diggins averaged 17.1 points and 6.1 assists a game, and shot .423 percent overall, .362 from 3-point range.

Diggins didn’t blame fatigue from a grueling college season, or faster stronger WNBA athletes guarding her for the rookie season num-bers.

“I think that I was in shape,” Diggins said. “That was the good part of not stopping, going from the college season to the WNBA.

“The WNBA is a different animal. My rookie year was a learning experience. I was trying to come in and be a sponge and absorb as much information as I could. I wanted to learn from my teammates, the few veterans that we had, and just treat the year as a learning experience. I think that’s what I did.

“Am I necessarily proud of the product I put on the court? No. Not at all. Do I think it had something to do with the NCAA year? I don’t know.”

What Diggins does know is that she will be better next season. She is not playing overseas this off-season, but will be working tirelessly to make more of an impact, and help her team rack up more victories.

“What I look forward to is next year, and the years after that,” Diggins said. “We have a very young team in Tulsa. I think our team competed with every team in the league. We know we were young, and that showed at times, with us finishing games.

“I think, for me, what I really need to do is come back and continue to improve my game. I think that a lot of people expected me to come in the league and do the same things that I did in college, in regards to points and assists and what have you. I don’t think I got to be a rookie. For this season, I really want to focus on coming in … and just playing. I don’t want to have to worry about peripheral things. That’s what I really want to focus on. I want to improve.”

According to Diggins, the way to improve her game is by doing what she has always done, outworking the competition, and being a student of the game.

“My shooting percentage wasn’t the best,” Diggins said. “How do you improve your shooting percentage? You shoot. That’s how you im-prove. I’ll look at a lot of game film. I’ll go back and watch those and dissect them.

“I’m not broken. I think a lot of times, when you don’t have the game of the season you want to have, or you’re not necessarily happy with the product that you put on the court, sometimes you get to feel like, you need to fix something. I think, if I go and try to find something to fix something, like I’m broken, then I’ll be searching for that my entire career. What I just need to do is get in the gym and work out.”

There won’t be wholesale changes in Diggins’ game. She knows how to shoot. She knows how to direct an of-fense. And she knows how to lead. But in the professional ranks, playing for a team that is struggling, the answer isn’t happening overnight.

“I think last year was good for me, as far as a learning experience,” Diggins said. “This year will obviously be different for so many reasons. I’m looking forward to this year, and the potential of my team that’s coming together.

“I think a lot of good things can come from the year we had. I don’t like losing, but I’m proud of the way my team competed. It was a matter of us finishing games, and other things. I think we have a lot of potential. I think we’re still working toward painting our masterpiece. I know my teammates are working hard to come back better this year, and I know I am, also.”

Diggins kept her Olympic aspirations alive when she was invited to participate in the USA Basketball National Team minicamp this summer.

“It was a great experience for me,” Diggins said. “I was grateful to be invited. There are so many great women’s basketball players out there. For me to be a part of the group that they chose, it was an amazing opportunity for me to get out there and learn from the best players in the world.

“I was able to have conversations with Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Candice Parker, Cappie Pondexter. I was glad I was glad I was able to share that experience with (former Notre Dame teammate) Kayla McBride. She definitely proved that she should be out there. I’m looking forward to the next test, whatever that may be.”

What won’t be in Diggins’ future is time away from the hoops.

“I’m not capable of resting, I don’t think,” Diggins said. “I’m too anxious. There will be a lot of training this off-season for me, a lot of traveling, but I’m going to try to be home as often as I can, too.”

Former Notre Dame women's basketball player Skylar Diggins speaks during her induction into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor on Saturday, November 16, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN