Published by Michiana Reads, February 1, 2013
Of all the cheers and applause that has accompanied Skylar Diggins through her stellar high school basketball career to her All-American play at Notre Dame, her best ovation may have come from students at the Tarkington Traditional Primary Center in South Bend.
Her sophomore year at Washington High School, Diggins found herself in front of kindergarten through fourth graders in an assembly. Instead of talking about what people knew her for – basketball – she engaged students on academics, being good students and good citizens.
“Skylar spoke to those young people, encouraging them to stay in school, get an education and follow their parent’s rules,” said George McCullough, principal at Washington. “After her speech, those young children gave her a standing ovation. You tell me how many kindergarteners and fourth graders even know about a standing ovation, but they gave her one.
“When she came back and sat next to me, I told her for those young people to give her a standing ovation you are very special person in their lives. I knew she had something special going for her.”
McCullough said the Tarkington speech was one of his favorite stories he likes to tell about Diggins, but it drove home a point that seems to repeat itself whenever the Notre Dame star talks about her life, or when anyone else describes her – it’s not just about basketball.
For the record, the reigning Big East Player of the Year and Associated Press Preseason All-American is passionate about basketball. After leading the Irish to two straight national championship games, one of her highest priorities is closing the deal and capturing a national crown this year. She plans on having a successful career in the WNBA and overseas.
But under the roof of her parents, Maurice and Renee Scott, it was about having a successful future off the court as well, using basketball, grades and being a role model – and not necessarily in that order.
“I take being a role model seriously,” Diggins told Michiana Reads recently. “I have a great, strong circle and my family played such a big part of who I am. The values that my parents instilled in me early were ones of integrity, possibility and humility. I carry that around with me every day. I’m just being myself.”
Maurice Scott, who coaches the Washington girls’ basketball team, said his daughter had to deal with being in the spotlight since her freshman year in high school, when she led the Panthers to the first of four straight appearances in the girls’ state championship game, winning the title in 2007.
“We knew everyone was watching, not necessarily to judge but watching to learn,” Scott said. “My wife and I would say whatever your actions are, you are teaching somebody else. She learned very early that she could live by being an example for others.”
Even though her decision between colleges came down between Notre Dame and Stanford, the quality of her education played a huge factor in her decision. What she had in her backyard, was a world-class university with a national-ranked women’s basketball team.
“I got lucky being from South Bend because Notre Dame was right here,” Diggins said. “I understand that when you get a degree from here, you can do whatever you want to do. When you say you graduated from Notre Dame, people look at you differently but in a good way. I knew this was a special place that would shape me into a woman.”
Scott said his daughter’s education will benefit her long after her basketball playing days are over. Along with the countless hours in the gymnasium, there were countless hours studying, away from cheering crowds and pep rallies.
“We set the bar extremely high for her,” Scott said. “We would say if you didn’t have homework or didn’t have to study, you must be getting straight A’s. Therefore, there was no room for a B in the house unless you were always studying. She brought home straight A’s pretty much though high school except one time when she had a B-plus one semester.”
Diggins said her mother never had a problem pointing out the B’s on the report card.
“My mom is a disciplinarian and took education very seriously,” she said. “If I came home with all A’s and one B, she’d say ‘that’s okay but what happened in this class?’ That comes from our competitive drive and wanting to be the best we can be.”
She took another step toward her future this summer when she completed an internship at ESPNW in Bristol, Conn. There, Diggins got a taste of sports journalism in front of and behind the camera.
“My internship was with ESPNW but I had the flexibility to float between all the different departments at ESPN,” Diggins said. “I connected with people from Notre Dame at ESPN. I met a lot of people for future opportunities down the road. I think I would want to do something in front of the camera.”
No one knows how bright the future is for Diggins better than her coach Muffet McGraw. McGraw has coached countless All-Americans and outstanding students at Notre Dame. She said Diggins has earned the praise.
“Skylar is an exceptional young woman, both on and off the court, and she has been a tremendous ambassador for not only our women's basketball program, but also the University of Notre Dame as a whole,” McGraw said. “She implicitly understands the responsibilities and challenges that come with being a high-profile student-athlete at an elite university, let alone one in her own hometown, and she has embraced that role with passion, grace, dignity and maturity.”
Diggins said, though, she still feels at home at a Washington High School game, hanging out with friends that she’s grown up with.
“Whenever I go back to Washington, it’s like I never left,” Diggins said. “My best friends today are the friends I went to high school with.”
McCullough, who Diggins called “just the coolest guy to be a principal,” said his former star pupil was influenced by the positive energy at the high school and is an example of how public schools continue to play a role in shaping students to becoming great citizens.
“Skylar sets the standard for being a role model and mentor for others,” McCullough said. “She has taken on not only representing her school and family, but the whole community. I tell people all the time Skylar Diggins didn’t make Washington High School. Washington High School made Skylar Diggins. I told her that and she laughed and said ‘you’re right.’ ”
Diggins said she’s been fortunate to have grown up in South Bend public school and having the chance to chase her collegiate dreams at Notre Dame. She said over that time, she’s had a lot of local girls who want to know about her success and how can they follow in her footsteps. She said her advice is always the same – just be you.
“Some tell me I want to be like you, but I tell them to be better than me,” Diggins said. “I think about my process and how I had to blaze my own trail, I had a lot of mentors and positive people in my life that helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be able to be sitting here without my parents.
“The importance of mentors and positive influences in your life can’t be overstated. It’s okay to have people you want to model your game and life after, but that individuality is so important to bring something different to the table. It’s okay to be you.”
Diggins has done quite well so far by just being herself.