Diggins motivated by second place
After losing to Castle in the 2006 Class 4A state finals, the South Bend Washington girls' basketball team still had to stick around to receive its second-place medals during the postgame ceremony. Then a freshman, Washington guard Skylar Diggins wasn't too happy with the loss and was already looking toward the next season.
And she made sure anyone within earshot knew about it, including the lady giving Diggins her medal.
"I said to her, 'We'll be back next year and we're going to win it,'" Diggins says. "She just looked at me and smiled."
The next day, there was a parade in South Bend to celebrate the Panthers' 25-2 season and their state title game appearance. After the festivities were over, Diggins immediately went home and started shooting baskets. When her stepfather, Moe Scott, asked how she had the energy to practice so soon after the state tournament and parade, she shot him a determined look and repeated the same prediction she'd given the woman who handed her the runner-up prize.
"I just hate losing," Diggins says. "It doesn't matter what we do. I'm playing it to win."
A year later, Diggins and her teammates were the ones accepting first-place medals after defeating Columbus East in the title game. Diggins grabbed a state-finals-record 17 rebounds and poured in 27 points.
"When she was a young kid, she used to get so upset if she lost," says Scott, who's in his first year as Washington's head coach after six years with the JV team. "We told her that no matter what, you do the best that you can do and you can lose. She's learned to deal with it, but she doesn't like it."
Diggins' skills alone put her in an elite class. She is rated the nation's No. 1 point guard and No. 3 overall recruit in the Class of 2009 in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. The 5-foot-9 senior was selected Gatorade State Girls' Basketball Player of the Year last season after averaging a state-best 29.5 points to go with 7.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.9 steals per game.
But it's her dogged pursuit of team success that makes Diggins special. Entering this season, she had a career record of 76-6 and had led Washington to the state title in 2007 and runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2008.
This past summer, she guided the USA Women's U18 National Team to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She led the squad in assists and was second in points, steals and minutes played.
"She's probably the most complete player anywhere," says Washington athletic director Marilyn Coddens, who coached the Panthers for 14 years before stepping down after the 2007-08 season. "She's not only a scorer; she's also a passer, defender and rebounder. Normally kids her age only excel in one. She's got it all."
Musical Artists: Lil Wayne and The-Dream
Pre-Game Song: "We Fly High" by Jim Jones
Video Game: Wii bowling
Diggins began showcasing her all-around game when she was 7 by playing against boys, some as much as two years older than her. When she began blowing by them with crossover moves, it was evident she was headed for stardom.
She took the state by storm as a freshman by tallying 20.8 points per contest and has managed to improve each year.
The scope of Diggins' impact extends beyond the hardwood as well. She has served as a great example for her younger brother, Maurice Scott Jr., who is in fourth grade.
Maurice Jr.'s admiration for his sister was never more evident than when he was having a discussion with his classmates as a second-grader about their favorite athletes. While his friends listed players like Kobe and LeBron, Maurice Jr. picked his sister.
"He looks up to me, which is cool," Diggins says. "It humbles me at times. I may be really upset some days, but I have to just chill out because I'm his role model."
"I asked him what he's going to do when she goes to college and he said, 'I don't know, mom. I'm just going to be a big mess,'" says Diggins' mother, Renee.
Diggins' brother isn't the only young person she's impacted. This past summer, she woke up at 7 a.m. to give lessons to kids at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center. And when she was in Argentina with Team USA, she gave her sneakers to a couple of local kids who had watched the gold medal game.
"We were made better people over there," Diggins says. "Just seeing all those kids -- they wanted us to be a part of [their lives]. Some of us walked barefoot back to our rooms that day. You put yourself aside in those situations."
She is just as grounded and humble back home. Even though she's Indiana's top baller, she doesn't consider herself special and takes academics as seriously as she does hoops.
Diggins, who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, is in the National Honor Society and entered her senior year with a 3.9 GPA. Her only B came when she was a sophomore. "You would have thought she got an F," her mother says.
She's also a talented middle hitter for the Washington volleyball team. She particularly likes volleyball because it's a release from basketball's everyday pressures, like people constantly asking her where she's going to college.
(For the record, Diggins was considering the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford and Penn State at press time.)
"In volleyball, I understand I'm not the best player in the state," she says. "Every night, I don't have people questioning me. It really helps me be a kid again. It's way less scrutiny."
Diggins understands she'll be under a lot of pressure to deliver a stellar individual campaign in her final high school season, but she's more focused on leading Washington to another state title.
The Panthers lost to Carmel in the finals last year, so the rest of the state better be on notice -- Diggins doesn't take well to losing.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
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