Spotlight shines on Skylar Diggins
But Notre Dame star says nothing has changed -- NCAA title is all that matters
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Skylar Diggins ascended to the top of her sport by being herself. Leading a preseason national title contender, having nearly 120,000 people follow her on Twitter and seeing her name spread from the sports pages to the gossip pages is not going to change that approach.
"I think that with the expectations means raising the bar, but it doesn't mean changing myself or being anything different or conforming to what society wants me to do or whatever," Diggins said. "In the same breath, I understand that people are watching me and I'm a role model And I welcome any challenges to that, and I'm just having fun with it. I'm enjoying it. It's not becoming a job, so I'm happy to be here."
For now, Diggins' job is to take a Notre Dame team coming off a national title game appearance to the next step.
The goal is simple.
"Last season we were the bridesmaids," Diggins said, "and this season we wanna be the bride."
The Final Four in Denver is six long months away, however, and controlling the circus around Diggins between now and then might be an exercise in and of itself.
Diggins became a national sensation during last year's six-game NCAA tournament run, averaging 19.3 points, more than five points per game better than her regular-season average.
Since then, speculation has run rampant around the South Bend native's dating life -- rap giant Lil Wayne wore her jersey on stage during an April concert -- while she has grown from a local celebrity to a national one.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw has never seen anything like it in her 25 years at the helm of the program.
"I think the whole social media thing has changed so tremendously that nobody probably has seen; it is just so new to see what she's going through," McGraw said. "I used to look at Brady Quinn. He was the guy I would look at and go like, 'The guy can't even go in the dining hall and get a sandwich without somebody trying to get an autograph for somebody else.' And I thought, 'Boy, that's a shame you can't even be a kid.' And that's what it's turned into for her, because she can't really go a lot of places locally.
"Everybody knows her, and everybody's so nice when she's out, but you can't be just a kid that wants to go to a movie. Everything's magnified, whatever you do. Fortunately she's a good kid and she's always on her best behavior, but you can't even really goof off like a normal kid would wanna do sometimes."
Notre Dame has taken precautions to not overwork Diggins, who won a gold medal this summer in China with Irish teammates Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters on the USA World University Games team. Diggins will be limited to one day of interviews per week this season.
McGraw, whom Diggins joked would never get a Twitter account, said she has no problem with Diggins' social media use as long as the junior handles it like an adult.
The coaching staff takes players' phones on road trips at night. McGraw has found amusement in this generation's attachment to technology, jokingly deleting some of her own messages in front of Diggins as a demonstration of how to say no.
She has plenty of help, however, with Diggins' family being so close by, something that Diggins feels has helped quell the pressure rather than increase it.
"I feel like I'm more comfortable because I'm in front of family and friends and familiar faces," Diggins said. "I feel like I know everybody in South Bend or I talk to everybody in South Bend, so it's great being home.
"And to have my family close enough to where if it gets heavy or if I need a break, I can go home. But at the same time they allow me to grow and develop into an adult and have the college experience but be right there to share it with me as well."
Which might explain why Diggins has embraced the attention, brushing aside any suggestions that all the adulation and requests might have somehow diminished the joy of growing up.
"I feel like a kid again," Diggins said. "I'm 21, but I feel like I'm 13, 9, 8 when I get out on the court because I'm having fun. College can make some people lose their passion because of the pressure, because of the expectations, because of the workload, but I'm having fun. Not only while I'm learning but being a part of Notre Dame, the academic side of it, the community, the tradition. I'm home. So I'm comfortable, and then when I step out on the court I feel like a kid in a candy store."
Matt Fortuna covers Notre Dame for ESPN.com. He can be reached at MattFortunaESPN@gmail.com.
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