As the reporter pool came into the visitors’ locker room in Philips Arena she was there front and center, hair down, jersey still on, ready to take questions. The pool wasn’t particularly big, maybe 10 of us, but it was about double the size of its counterpart in the hometown Atlanta Dream’s locker room down the hall.
In person, she’s taller than she looks on TV – and taller than her listed 5’9” height – thinner too. It’s possible she’s lost weight since coming to the league. But she’s just as beautiful. Her skin glows, her eyes light up the room and I could go on for days about her smile.
“I like the hair,” one reporter comments.
“Thanks,” she responds, not smiling, not frowning. She doesn’t want to talk about her hair. Skylar Diggins wants to talk about basketball. She doesn’t want to talk about this particular game much. She went 4-for-13, had five turnovers and scored 15 forgettable points on the way to a 98-81 drubbing from the Dream. Her +/- for the game was -21. But someone should at least ask her about basketball.
“Can I get a response to tonight’s game here?” is the first question.
“Obviously we wanted to win,” she responds, “We wanted to play better than what we did, but you’ve got to give credit to them.”
She looks bored. Bored with the question and bored with the answer that she had prepared for such a question before it was even asked. She’s been asked enough questions and been through enough media training to know a throwaway answer to a throwaway question when she hears it.
I decide to ask a basketball question. I ask about her move from point to two guard late in the game when the offense stopped coming through her. At that point, the great Skylar Diggins, the woman who is probably the best player in the history of Notre Dame women’s basketball, the third prong in the WNBA’s 3 to see campaign, became a spectator.
“I moved to the two when Candice rolled her ankle,” she shoots back. Realizing it may have come across as a bit harsh, she smiles at me. I melt.
But I follow up. “Was that something you guys talked about? Was that planned or was it just an adjustment on the fly?”
“It wasn’t planned because she rolled her ankle,” she responds in much the same tone. “So I wasn’t expecting to play a lot of the two. But we had to make those adjustments as needed.”
In truth, it was a stupid question or at least one that was inartfully phrased. I meant to ask if she had been prepared to play more two guard in the event of an injury or foul trouble or if someone else on the Shock’s bench would step in to allow her to remain in control of the offense. But she smiled at me and words were difficult.
Her post-game demeanor reminds me a lot of Kobe Bryant’s after a loss. At this point in his career, Kobe has entered a realm all his own when it comes to curmudgeonly pithy locker room interviews. But Skylar has the same chip on her shoulder, the same distaste for being beaten, and for talking about it afterwards.
After three minutes and 45 seconds the questioning is done. She’s tired of talking and none of us have questions we really need answered. She has a meet and greet scheduled with about 100 fans who paid $100 each for two tickets and a chance to have their merchandise signed and take a picture with her.
“I’m really not feeling that right now,” she says to the Shock’s press rep, after most of the reporters have left. “I’ll go down there for a little bit.”
Before the meet and greet she walks back to the court where about 25 of what event security call her friends and family are still sitting in the stands. They’ve been waiting for her since the game ended, along with about 25 others who are hoping to get a quick glimpse of Skylar Diggins after the game or have their hats, jerseys or programs signed.
She’s there for about 15 minutes before being rushed back to the locker room, unable to sign a few remaining items.
“I’m sorry. I love you guys,” she yells as she’s rushed along.
At the meet and greet she’s all smiles. She’s managed to perfect the genuinely-excited-to-be-here-and-happy-to-meet-you, “Hi!” salutation to each and every person who stops at the table. There are a few familiar faces – fans who have followed her since her playing days at Washington High School, a former Notre Dame classmate, a few others from South Bend. She stops and hugs them.
I run into photographer who has covered her since her sophomore year at Notre Dame.
“So, she’s a little bit of a diva?” I ask.
“More than a little bit,” he responds, laughing. “She likes to win.”
Diggins was 102-7 through her high school career, 126-19 in college and 5-0 playing for Team USA’s under-18 national team. The Shock were 9-25 last season and if Saturday night’s performance is any indication – the team shot 37.5 percent from the field, gave up 58 points in the paint and had a ghastly 25 turnovers – she will likely be dealing with more losses than she’s accustomed to.
But the great ones always hate to lose. From Michael Jordan to my 9-year-old cousin Senya, who wouldn’t speak to me after I beat her in a game of Madden, the great ones don’t accept coming up short.
Her game is already exceptional. She easily beat defenders off the dribble, controlled the tempo when the ball was in her hands and showed on a couple occasions that she can take over a game on the defensive end. She’s also a born leader, yelling directions, calling plays and setting the tone on both ends of the court.
“It happened day one,” said Shock guard Requina Williams. “She came in, knew her role, knowing that we expect her to lead us even though she’s such a young player.”
Dream coach Fred Williams had effusive praise for the rookie.
“She’s just a winner,” he said. “I think she orchestrated well on defense and on offense and she’s gonna have a fine career in this league.”
I said before the WNBA draft that Diggins was going to take the league to a new level, in terms of exposure, popularity and revenue. I said that she would be the WNBA’s Michael Jordan and everything I saw from her on Saturday night backed up that assertion.
I’m all in on the Skylar Diggins bandwagon, even if she is a little bit of a diva. I mean, so was Michael.