Basketball loving Skylar Diggins back again

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Thirty minutes before the chaos began Sunday afternoon, something important had to be done.

A Washington High gym filled with blaring hip-hop and bouncing basketballs suddenly fell quiet.

Skylar Diggins joined hands with her family and friends who make her Shoot 4 The Sky youth basketball camps function to say a prayer.

“We’re spiritual people,” said Maurice Scott, Diggins' step-dad and a camp instructor. “We understand that none of this would be possible without (our creator).”

That’s a foundation of the four-hour brush with the most popular women’s basketball player on the planet.

It’s all about the message.

Diggins isn’t one of those celebs who makes an appearance, poses for some selfies, scribbles her name 50 or so times, then says adios.

Skylar was there for the long haul – and loving it. She’s finally back in her element, hands on a basketball, waiting for her body to allow her to work the magic again.

It’s coming. Slow but sure.

This has been the first time the 25-year-old Washington High (2008) and Notre Dame (2012) grad has endured a separation from her game because of an injury. An ACL injury to her right knee in late June ended Diggins’ WNBA season prematurely. It started her on another journey that’s been excruciatingly slow and tedious, a version of hell for someone like Diggins who is hyper and uber-driven.

“(The rehab) slow and boring,” Diggins said, bouncing to the music in the background. “It’s a process. Everything is a process. It has a mind of its own, and you kind of just roll with it. I surrendered to that process.”

There’s still work to be done, but all indications are that she’ll be 100 percent when the season begins in the spring.

“Mentally, (the injury and rehab) has been tough and challenging,” Scott said. “It’s like this camp. The motto is: Get better; always do your best. Get better every day. (Diggins) understands it. She’s a trooper, man.”

There were down times. She lost a love, you know. The world Diggins grew up in was shaken to the core.

“For about a month straight, I felt sorry for myself that I couldn’t play basketball,” Diggins said. “It was still around me. I was still traveling with my team (Tulsa Shock, soon to move to Arlington, Tex.).

“I’ve always been a student of the game. Now, even more so.”

Diggins has always carried the mentality: If the trainer tells me to do 10 exercises, I’ll do 20. Reining in that sort of thinking is as important as anything in the recovery.

“I’m not rushing back for anything,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to go through this process again. I’m happy where I’m at right now.”

Where Diggins is at is home. While doing 15 of these youth camps across the country throughout the winter, she’s based in South Bend. Her rehab is being done regularly at Notre Dame.

She knows her way around.

Diggins was disappointed she wasn’t able to be there when Irish coach Muffet McGraw got her 700th victory at Notre Dame against Bucknell Sunday, but sticking her nose in the drills and having an active role in the instruction process put her in her element.

“These kids are amazing,” she said of the group of about 50 young boys and girls. “I grew up around basketball all my life in South Bend. I thought our style of basketball was unique, in the way that we trained and the way that we pushed ourselves.

“We’re trying to teach that style to kids all across the country, and eventually all across the world. It’s important that we as WNBA players, professional athletes, that we are accessible. The kids want to be able to relate to you.”

Diggins has a simple message she hopes will stick with every kid in her camp.

“Be the best you can be,” she said. “Do your best. A lot of times, people compare players. At the end of the day, what’s for you is for you.

“All you can do is put as much effort and energy as you can into something that you’re passionate about. Allow your elevator to go to the top floor. Be competitive with yourself. Surround yourself with positive mentors. Put people around you who talk good about you behind your back and tell you the truth to your face.

“Kids ask, ‘If I want to play basketball, what do I do?’ I say, ‘Play basketball.’ You have to put the time in.”

Diggins put her whole life into the game, only to have it temporarily snatched away.

Sunday, she was back at it. The age of the players around her didn’t matter a bit.

Diggins was able to love the game again.

After a long bout with the process, it was finally starting to love her back.

Skylar Diggins gives instructions to boys and girls Sunday during the "Shoot 4 The Sky" basketball camp at Washington High School put on by the former Panther and Notre Dame and current WNBA star. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)