July 6, 2015
2015 WNBA All-Star Game – Fan Voting Page
(vote daily through July 9 for your Notre Dame women’s basketball alums!)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – When the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) unveiled its individual honors for the month of June on Monday afternoon, the league’s familiar orange-and-oatmeal color scheme easily could be exchanged for the blue and gold of the University of Notre Dame.
Former Fighting Irish All-American and third-year Tulsa Shock point guard Skylar Diggins (’13) was selected as the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Month, while former Notre Dame All-America forward and first-year Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa (’14) claimed the WNBA Rookie of the Month award, the league announced as part of the WNBA Performance Awards program, presented by Samsung.
Both Diggins and Achonwa are the first Notre Dame women’s basketball alums ever chosen for their respective WNBA monthly honors. What’s more, Achonwa is the first Indiana Fever player in the franchise’s 16-year history to be selected as WNBA Rookie of the Month.
“I can’t think of two more deserving winners for these awards than Skylar and Natalie,” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “Skylar has such a positive attitude and a great work ethic, and even with her knee injury, she’s determined to come back better than ever.
“I’m thrilled to see Natalie’s hard work rehabbing her knee has paid off,” McGraw added. “She looks comfortable in Indiana’s system, very similar to what she did here at Notre Dame, and she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
In June, Diggins ranked second among Western Conference players in scoring (17.8 points per game) and three-point field-goal percentage (.448 on 13-of-29 from behind the arc), and fourth in assists (5.0 assists per game). She also tied for fifth in the conference in steals (1.56 steals per game) and was sixth in free-throw percentage (.918, 45-of-49).
The South Bend native scored 20 or more points four times last month, including a season-high 31-point effort in a 93-89 victory over visiting Seattle on June 28 in which Tulsa tied its franchise record of eight consecutive wins. Diggins also poured in 26 points and added eight assists in an 86-78 win at Minnesota on June 21 as the Shock supplanted the Lynx for first place in the West at the time.
After Tulsa’s season-opening loss at Minnesota, the 2014 All-Star led the Shock to eight straight wins and the top spot in the Western Conference standings through June 28 before her season came to an end when she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee in the final minute of the aforementioned win over Seattle.
“I’m focused on getting healthy and stepping on the court even stronger,” Diggins said once her injury was confirmed. “For the remainder of this season, I will continue to support my teammates in every way possible.”
“There is no question she’ll be bigger and better when she returns for the 2016 season,” added Tulsa team president Steve Swetoha.
Despite her injury, Diggins led all WNBA players in early fan balloting for the 2015 WNBA All-Star Game with 11,099 votes as of July 2. Fan voting for the All-Star Game continues through Thursday on the league’s official web site (wnba.com), as well as through Twitter and Facebook (fans can vote for one player per social media post using their name or Twitter handle and the hashtag #WNBABallot).
Following her own significant knee injury that abruptly ended her college career and a grueling 14-month rehabilitation, Achonwa reaped some of the fruits of her long road to recovery with Monday’s honor as WNBA Rookie of the Month.
In June, Achonwa led all WNBA rookies in scoring (10.2 ppg.) and placed second in field-goal percentage (.526), fourth in rebounds (4.6 rpg.), and fifth in minutes played (21.5 mpg.). Overall, she ranked sixth among all WNBA players in field-goal percentage last month.
“Being named (WNBA) Rookie of the Month has been both rewarding and motivating,” Achonwa said. “I’m honored to be the first player in both Fever and Notre Dame history to receive this award, but at the same time, it makes me want more! We are just starting to click with each other and I can’t wait to see how we continue to compete as a team.”
Achonwa had career highs in points (14) and minutes (32) to go along with five rebounds in a 78-69 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on June 6. She also grabbed a career-best seven rebounds in a 77-74 victory over the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury on June 12.
Achonwa has started all but one game for the 5-6 Fever this season, posting double digits in scoring seven times. She currently leads the team in field-goal percentage (.512) while ranking second in rebounds (4.6 rpg.) and blocked shots (0.5 blocks per game), and fourth in scoring (9.8 ppg.).
“She’s got sort of a point guard mentality in a post player’s body,” said Indiana head coach Stephanie White. “We like to have the ball in her hands. She has great maturity. She reminds me a lot of Tamika (Catchings) when Tamika came in as a rookie – sort of mature beyond her years, on and off the court.”
Achonwa was selected by the Fever in the first round (ninth overall selection) of the 2014 WNBA Draft. She missed the entire 2014 season while recovering from a torn ACL in her left knee suffered on March 31, 2014, during Notre Dame’s 88-69 win over Baylor in the NCAA Elite Eight (Notre Dame Regional final) at Purcell Pavilion.
While rehabilitating her injury, Achonwa served as the operations specialist on the Fighting Irish women’s basketball staff during the 2014-15 season. In that role, she helped coordinate team travel, summer camps and several community service projects, allowing her to remain closely connected with a program that has been such a vital piece of her development since she came to the United States from Guelph, Ontario, in 2010.
“With sitting out a year and then going through the physical and mental challenges of being a rookie, I’ve focused on using my basketball IQ and competitiveness to my advantage,” Achonwa said. “When you have the chance to learn from a Hall of Fame coach like Coach McGraw for four years, plus a bonus one on the staff, you learn so much about not only the game of basketball, but about life in general, lessons that translate to any level.”
Achonwa and her Indiana teammates will be back on the hardwood at noon (ET) Wednesday, playing host to another former Notre Dame All-American (and the 2015 WNBA No. 1 overall draft pick), Jewell Loyd and the Seattle Storm at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Fever then take on former Fighting Irish All-America guard Kayla McBride and the San Antonio Stars at 7 p.m. (ET) Friday, also at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tickets for both games still are available through the arena box office or online at feverbasketball.com – the games also will be webcast live on WNBA All-Access.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
– Chris Masters, Athletics Communications Associate Director