Documentary allows former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins to examine basketball process

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Cameras don’t bother Skylar Diggins anymore.

It's just part of the deal when it comes to being a professional athlete, or spokesperson for any number of the causes about which the Washington High and Notre Dame grad is passionate.

But she couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like if the prying eye of a video camera would have followed a pre-teen Skylar — with her friends and teammates Ashley Varner and Emily Phillips — as they cut their teeth in the basketball world.

“My parents are probably grateful there wasn’t (a camera documenting her every move),” Diggins said. “Talk about not knowing what (kids are) going to say or do… That was this kid, right here.

“I was not a shy kid. Our group was rambunctious. Just ask (Washington coaches) Marilyn and Don Coddens. We were just a fun group. I don’t know how we would have handled (the attention).”

That’s why Diggins is so pleased about the documentary “Little Ballers Indiana,” that will be broadcast in three 30-minute segments — March 3, 4 and 5 — on Nickelodeon TV.

The collaborative brainchild of producer Crystal McCrary and Diggins, the cameras profile six members of the Sky Digg Ballers 11-12-year-old AAU team from South Bend, coached by Diggins’ stepfather Maurice Scott, on the court and off. Ryin Ott, Kashlin Biffle, Bria Brown, Mila Reynolds, Amiyah Reynolds and Alycia Patterson get a chance to tell their stories.

“This group is very humble, grateful,” said Diggins. “It reminded me a lot of when we were young and coming up. It was fun seeing it come full-circle. I’ve been in their shoes, not too many years ago.”

"We talked to the girls about it before it ever started," said Maurice "Moe" Scott, Skylar's stepdad and coach of the team. "After a while, once they got on the court, the girls just blocked it out.

"Sometimes it was hard for me to remember that I was wearing a mic."

Diggins said the documentary touches on an area that almost always is hidden.

“You always see the end result; the finished product,” said Diggins. “You never really see when the kids are growing up; the process.

“It was great to highlight these kids — their relationships, their friendships, their personalities. It shows their love for the game. Kids coming from different backgrounds and family makeup, are able to come together.”

With basketball as the common denominator.

About two years ago, a two-part documentary on boys youth basketball, “Little Ballers,” was aired on Nickelodeon. Diggins was interviewed by McCrary for that show. That’s when the two started talking about doing something similar from a girls perspective, using Indiana’s passion for the game as part of the fuel for the show.

“When you talk about basketball, everybody knows about Indiana basketball,” said Diggins. “Everybody knows about Hoosier Hysteria. There are girls from my hometown who love the game. Crystal took an idea and brought it to life. She’s amazing.”

“In 49 other states, basketball is a game,” Scott says in the documentary. “In Indiana, it’s a way of life.”

That AAU season ran from November, 2014, until July, 2015. In that time, Sky Digg Ballers won three tournaments and played in the championship bracket of all eight in which they played.

Diggins chuckles at the suggestion that Scott is likely to be besieged with offers to coach teams after the documentary airs. Scott, who is an assistant coach at Riley High, has a prominent role on and off the court.

“Don’t tell him that,” Diggins said laughing. “He already believes he’s a popular fella.”

“Someday, I just want to be the guy who brings Moe a cup of water,” said Riley head coach Mark Johnson, flashing his dry sense of humor.

“Little Ballers Indiana” is just one of the projects in which Diggins is invested with her time and personality. She’s the national ambassador for the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team, which was announced Tuesday. She’s a spokesperson for GENYOUTH and the National Dairy Council. And, there’s that late April wedding with former Notre Dame wide receiver Daniel Smith quickly approaching.

“It’s always been about doing the things I’m passionate about,” said Diggins. “It never feels like work. It’s just me doing the things I love, and also doing the things I’m good at.”

Like being in front of a camera.

Skylar Diggins, South Bend native and WNBA star, talks to kids during an event that promotes a healthy lifestyle for students at Wilson Primary Center in September. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Skylar Diggins, South Bend native and WNBA star, talks to kids during an event that promotes a healthy lifestyle for students at Wilson Primary Center in September. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)