Skylar balances her act

Cliff Brunt
Associated Press

Not even Drake's infatuation can throw Skylar Diggins off her game.

Drake has made his admiration for the Tulsa Shock guard's basketball skills — and good looks — clear via social media, and she chose to play along.

While hosting the ESPYs on Wednesday, Drake met Diggins for the first time and performed a skit with his dream woman. While wearing a Diggins' No. 4 Notre Dame jersey, Drake recited a poem titled "Can I Dig In," and got a kiss on the forehead for his troubles.

Diggins, ever the businesswoman, said she agreed to the appearance at the last minute. Drake's interest in the WNBA star had drawn quite a bit of attention, and the ESPYs gave her an opportunity to address it.

"It was just a way to clear the air and just have fun with everything," Diggins told The Associated Press. "Just be light about it. (Drake’s) a cool guy, and I thought it was a fun moment to lighten the mood. I was happy to be there, and I thought it went over well with everybody. We got great feedback from it."

Though Diggins, a South Bend native and Notre Dame grad, is well known off the court — she has nearly a half million Twitter followers, posed for this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, appeared in Vogue and has the league's No. 2 selling jersey — she is just as committed and successful on it.

After a disappointing rookie year, she has emerged as the WNBA's second-leading scorer and will start for the Western Conference in Saturday's All-Star game in Phoenix.

"People thought I was broken," Diggins said. "I'm the same old Skylar. I just got in the gym and worked hard, harder. I've always had a pretty big work ethic. I'm on myself harder than anybody could be on me. Same old Skylar — just Skylar 2.0 or 3.0, or whatever you want to say."

One can better understand Diggins' all-around drive by examining her life in the hours surrounding the ESPYs. On Wednesday, she scored 19 points in Minnesota against the Lynx before flying three hours to Los Angeles for the Drake skit. She returned to Tulsa for Thursday afternoon's game against San Antonio and had 19 points and eight assists in a victory just before flying to the All-Star game.

Diggins, 23, is well aware of the importance of marketability — her Notre Dame degree is in management/entrepreneurship.

She didn't play overseas after last season like most women's stars because she and Jay-Z's Roc Nation agreed it made more sense for her to stay in the United States and focus on building her name.

"I saw I had a lot of opportunities off the court, building my brand," she said. "I know I can't play basketball forever. I don't like being put in a box of just being an athlete. I'm definitely going to work hard for the opportunities and use my degree at Notre Dame to help build a future for myself after basketball. I wanted to build my foundation early."

One might have wondered if Diggins' game would catch up with her hype. She was the No. 3 pick in the WNBA draft in 2013, but she averaged just 8.5 points her first year. With all her offseason obligations and her decision not to play overseas, it might have been fair to expect her game to remain level or fall off.

Instead, she ranks second in the league at 21 points and fourth in assists with 5.3.

"She's a totally different player," San Antonio guard Becky Hammon said. "She came in, took her lumps but she learned from it. She's ballin' out this year. I'm very happy for her. She came in with a lot of pressure. It's tough. People don't realize the transition. She took her hits and she's learned from it."

She's already done her part to draw attention to the league. Diggins first made waves on social media back in 2011, when her looks drew attention from recording artists Chris Brown and Lil' Wayne. Now, Drake is the latest celebrity to publicly show his appreciation. Drake has occasionally posted photos of Diggins on his Instagram account.

Diggins' boyfriend, former Notre Dame football player and South Bend Clay High grad Daniel Smith, responded by posting a pic of himself with Diggins and tagging Drake to make sure he saw it.

Diggins said Smith has shown understanding through the craziness that is her life. And for the record, Diggins said Smith was fine with the Drake skit and other attention she receives.

"It comes with it, and I think he (Smith) is amazing," Diggins said. "That's all I really have to say. Love him to death."

Skylar Diggins and Drake, left, stand on stage at the ESPY Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)
Former Notre Dame and Washington High School standout Skylar Diggins is a first-time all-star in her second pro season with the Tulsa Shock. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Tulsa's Skylar Diggins (4) celebrates as the Shock picks up points in the 106-99 win over the Chicago Sky on Sunday, June 22, 2014, inside Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)