New Mom Skylar Diggins-Smith About to Take the Court with USA Basketball
The WNBA All-Star hasn’t played a game yet this season after giving birth to her son, but she’ll soon be back with her USA teammates.
Point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith has had an accomplished basketball career, earning the Dawn Staley and Nancy Lieberman awards while in college at Notre Dame, making multiple WNBA All-Star teams and also winning gold medals for USA Basketball.
But she hasn’t played a game this season, because she’s been busy with a second job — becoming a first-time mom just before the season began.
“That’s definitely been an adjustment,” she said. “Just trying to work out, and it’s definitely been a balance that comes with that, but it’s been amazing. It definitely takes some time. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s really just about enjoying your experience with your child and motherhood. Basketball is part time. So, it’s just enjoying your life.
“Basketball is definitely going to give me something I have fun with, that I’m passionate about and enjoy, but I also enjoy these times with my son and husband (Daniel Smith). I love family, too. Just making sure that family comes first and everything else is just what it is.”
If Diggins-Smith has any rust from not playing yet this year, she’ll have the opportunity to knock that off beginning this September, when she’ll join the USA Basketball Women’s National Team at training camp ahead of the FIBA AmeriCup. While she won’t be involved in full-court action, nor will she travel to Puerto Rico for the AmeriCup, Diggins-Smith will start to become reacclimated to USA head coach Dawn Staley’s system.
Following that, she’ll join seven athletes from the USA National Team player pool as they embark on a new increased training plan leading up to the Olympic Games.
“It’s a great learning experience just having so many talented basketball minds around that you normally don’t get to play with,” Diggins-Smith said. “The players are so talented, so to be able to step on the floor with them, it’s always fun to represent the U.S. and play with great players. It’s always a fun experience.”
Diggins-Smith grew up in South Bend, Indiana, just eight miles away from the University of Notre Dame, and started in basketball when she was young. After being named to the all-state team three times in high school, she went on to play four seasons at Notre Dame after choosing the Fighting Irish over Stanford University.
“It was like a perfect scenario for me, because I got to stay home,” she said. “You think you want to go far, but I kind of wanted to stay home, because I knew realistically that it would be hard for my parents to go all the way to see me play at Stanford. It was a perfect situation that I had with coach Muffet McGraw. And so, it worked out pretty well.”
More than just pretty well. Diggins-Smith is the only Notre Dame player, male or female, to amass more than 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in her career. She also was the all-time leading scorer with 2,357 points — until being passed this past season by Arike Ogunbowale — and helped the Irish to three consecutive Final Fours and two championship games.
With her extraordinary college career behind her, the Tulsa Shock selected her with the No. 3 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. Diggins-Smith was named the 2014 WNBA Most Improved Player and has been named a WNBA All-Star four times.
Diggins-Smith has also played 3x3 basketball, helping the USA team to a FIBA 3x3 World Cup gold medal in the inaugural tournament in 2012.
“We were like the first team to win it when they started the competition,” she said. “It was fun. It just reminds you of growing up at the park and playing outside in a real light environment. And years later the Big3 came along and to see how popular now the Big3 is, and how people love playing 3x3 it brings you back to street ball. It was definitely a fun experience and getting to be overseas was amazing.”
3x3 has since been added to the Olympic Games, which Diggins-Smith said she believed should be the case back when she still was studying at Notre Dame.
“Back then, I was really fighting for it to be in,” she said. “And so, it’s fun that that they’re adding that and it’s another opportunity to get to watch them play basketball.”
That was her most recent USA Basketball gold medal, but far from her only one. She was a member of the winning teams at the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, the 2009 FIBA U19 World Cup as well as the 2011 World University Games.
“For sure the gold medal games are something terrifyingly beautiful,” she said. “You just go into those games and say, ‘Oh, my goodness — it’s crazy there are so many people (watching). It’s always so much love when you go overseas. They love the game of basketball. They cheer for everything — free throws, layups.
“I just remember the atmosphere I played in in the gold medal games. Being a little nervous before the game starts, and then you win. And getting that medal. And I think just the whole experience, the practice, the things behind the scene, it just all makes sense when you make it to that level.”
Playing in the Olympic Games is the ultimate international dream for Diggins-Smith, ideally as soon as next year.
“I know my biggest goal is doing that in Tokyo,” she said
Now 29 years old, she plans to play in the WNBA for many more seasons — as Sue Bird often says, “40 is the new 30” — and then perhaps continue in the game, either as a college coach or broadcaster.
“I just want to have fun and I think different opportunities are going to pop up,” she said. “I think it’s just taking it day by day and just seeing what I love and what’s in the game. I want to stay close to it, but I have other things that I’m passionate about.”
One of those things is undoubtedly her son, who might also grow up to become a great basketball player like his mom or maybe a football player since husband Daniel Smith was a wide receiver at Notre Dame.
In the meantime, Diggins-Smith knows that she can balance the roles of All-Star basketball player and mother quite well.
“There are a lot of women in the league who are playing really well in the league, and they have children. and I’m not really worried about it at all,” she said. “I’m just taking it day by day and like I said, most importantly enjoying the time with my son.”