Notre Dame hoops great Skylar Diggins-Smith adds husband, hyphen

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Adding a husband and a hyphen have been the best things that could have happened to Skylar Diggins.

Actually, that’s Skylar Diggins-Smith.

The Washington High and Notre Dame grad’s whirlwind of an offseason ended a couple weeks ago when she and Daniel Smith — a former Clay High and Notre Dame athlete — were married in Chicago.

Now that all the important stuff is out of the way, the 5-foot-9 veteran of four WNBA seasons is ready to take the league by storm when the Dallas Wings debut Saturday, May 20 at home against Minnesota.

Diggins-Smith will be in a integral spot on the Dallas roster. The point guard will be charged with helping five rookies, including three of the top 10 picks in the draft — Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator (No. 3), Allisha Gray (4) and Kaela Davis (10), both of NCAA champion South Carolina — and three others with one year of experience to develop.

“I’m an older player; more experienced,” Diggins-Smith said. “My role on this team is being a leader. I had a great off-season.

“I think about the talent we have; about the great programs some of those young players came from. That’s encouraging.”

Diggins-Smith has her own challenges to navigate. In 2014, she was knocking at the door of the WNBA elite — averaging 20.1 points, 5.0 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game. Then came 2015. Nine games into the season, everything came crashing down when she sustained a torn ACL.

Last year, while making 25 starts after the recovery, Diggins-Smith averaged 13.1 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 turnovers.

“I’m eager to see Skylar this year in Dallas,” said ESPN WNBA analyst Rebecca Lobo. “It’s such a young group around her. People won’t know what to expect.

“I’m anticipating her being back on top of her game. She was having such a great season a couple years ago before she got hurt. We saw that again in stretches last year. I’m eager to see if she could be one of the elite players once again in the WNBA.”

“When these rookies come in their eyes are sssoooo big,” Diggins-Smith said, adding that her hand is wide open. “There’s a lot of information to take in.”

The main point of concern for the Wings this year will be on the defensive end. Yielding 88.2 points a game last season, they were the worst in the league. That contributed to Dallas finishing 11th in the 12-team league (11-23) — four games ahead of San Antonio.

“The great thing about coach Fred’s (Williams) system is it’s not very different from the systems they’re coming from (in college),” Diggins-Smith said. “We want to improve our defense. The work ethic they have will help the defense.”

As for Diggins-Smith, the route to returning to the league’s upper echelon isn’t a secret.

“Just play,” she said. “Have fun and play. I’m at a great point in my life right now: Being married, having fun… It’s basketball. It’s just basketball. I’ve got a great group around me who will make it easy on me.”

Other Irish

— Natalie Achonwa: The 6-4 center for the Indiana Fever played a limited role last year in her first true WNBA season (she missed all of 2015 with a knee injury in her senior year at Notre Dame).

Achonwa averaged 3.6 points and 2.0 rebounds while playing 8.0 minutes in 24 games. She and 6-4 Nadia Colhado of Brazil are the only centers on the Fever roster.

“I’m interested, especially with a new coach (Pokey Chatman took over for Stephanie White) there, how that whole team is going to develop,” said Lobo. “Natalie can have a big part of that.

“I’m eager to see if she’ll have an expanded role this year, or be that player who comes off the bench.”

— Kayla McBride: The 5-11 guard, a veteran of three seasons with San Antonio, missed the second half of last season with a fractured right foot. In 17 games, she averaged 17.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

McBride made the WNBA All-Rookie team in 2014 (13.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists) and was an all-star replacement (when three stars were unable to participate in the All-Star Game) in 2015 (13.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists).

“I’m excited to see Kayla healthy,” said ESPN WNBA analyst LaChina Robinson. “It’s only been injuries that have derailed her. She could be part of a really explosive backcourt.

“This could be the season when she makes that push to an all-star level type of player.”

— Devereaux Peters: The five-year WNBA veteran is not on a roster this season.

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)