Jan. 25, 2016

By Chris Masters

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame women’s basketball program could have a distinct influence on the makeup of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, as three former Fighting Irish All-America guards are among 25 finalists for the official 12-player roster that will represent the United States at the Summer Olympics later this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Skylar Diggins (’13), Kayla McBride (’14) and Jewell Loyd (-16) all remain in contention to become the first Notre Dame players to wear the Stars & Stripes at the Olympics since Ruth Riley (’01) struck gold with Team USA at the 2004 Athens Games. In addition, Notre Dame is one of just two schools in the country to have three alums among the 25 U.S. Olympic Team finalists, who were chosen by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee.

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team will conduct a training camp Feb. 21-23 at the University of Connecticut. Athletes taking part in the minicamp, which is expected to be the final training before the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team is selected, will be announced at a later date and will come from the pool of finalists.

“This is a very special moment for our program, and these three women, in particular,” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “All three of them have worked extremely hard to get to this point in their careers, and to be chosen as finalists for the Olympic Team, with the chance to represent their country on the highest stage, it’s a tremendous honor. We’re so proud of Sky, K-Mac and Jewell for everything they have already accomplished, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead for them with both USA Basketball and their WNBA careers.”

“Naming the Olympic Team finalists is another step in our selection process,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team Director and chair of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee. “Because of the quality and talent in the USA National Team pool, every time we pare the list it is a difficult task. Yet, we eventually have to get down to a 12-member team, so we conscientiously look at the present goal of winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games with an eye to sustaining our success in the future. This list of finalists is a mix of veterans, youth, international savvy and USA Basketball experience.

“What adds to the challenge of picking a team is the devotion and commitment all of our athletes have to our USA National Team and representing their country, especially given the year-round play many of them have in the WNBA and on overseas teams.”

Diggins and McBride are members of the 2014-16 USA Basketball Women’s National Team player pool, having qualified for the group following their performances at a USA Basketball mini-camp Oct. 4-6, 2013, in Las Vegas. The pair competed in multiple USA Basketball training camps during the 2014 calendar year and were among the final players cut from the U.S. squad that competed (and ultimately won the gold medal) at the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Loyd made her initial appearance with the USA Women’s National Team at another Las Vegas mini-camp in 2015. Her performance at that camp, coupled with a sensational first year with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm that culminated with her selection as the WNBA Rookie of the Year, led USA Basketball to add her to Women’s National Team player pool and emerge one of the 25 Olympic Team finalists.

“I think her addition is because of some of the success she had during the summer playing in Seattle,” said USA head coach Geno Auriemma. “There is a concerted effort to get as many guards into this training camp as possible because we can’t just think about now, we also have to think about the future. She is one of the best young players in the league and deserves to be there.”

Diggins is Notre Dame’s career leader in points (2,357) and steals (381) and ranks second in school history with 745 assists, highlighting a staggering 32 school records she held or shared at the time of her graduation. A four-time All-America selection and five-time USA Basketball gold medalist, the South Bend native has gone on to achieve further success at the professional level as a two-time WNBA All-Star and earned first-team all-WNBA honors in 2014 while playing for the Tulsa Shock (now known as the Dallas Wings).

Diggins currently is recovering from knee surgery in the wake of a season-ending injury suffered during a WNBA game last June. At the time of her injury, Diggins ranked second in the WNBA’s Western Conference in scoring (17.8 points per game) and three-point field-goal percentage (.448), as well as fourth in the conference in assists (5.0 per game), fifth in steals (1.56 per game) and sixth in free-throw percentage (.918). She also was named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Month in June, days after she was sidelined.

McBride was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame and ranks sixth in school history with 1,876 career points. She also earned a gold medal with the 2010 USA Basketball Under-18 National Team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Colorado Springs. Upon her graduation from Notre Dame in 2014, the Erie, Pennsylvania, product began her professional career with the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars, collecting WNBA All-Rookie Team honors in 2014 before working her way up to garner WNBA All-Star accolades in 2015 (she came off the bench to score 18 points in the Western Conference’s 117-112 win over the Eastern Conference).

McBride completed her second WNBA season in October, ranking 14th in the league in scoring (13.8 ppg.), as well as 11th in three-point percentage (.373) and 14th in free-throw percentage (.879).

During the WNBA off-season, McBride is playing overseas with Russian club team Nadezhda Orenburg, located in the south central Russian city of Orenburg near the Kazakhstan border. McBride currently is averaging 11.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game for her club team, which is second in the 12-team Russian Basketball League with a 14-1 record.

Loyd, a two-time USA Basketball gold medalist who left Notre Dame after her junior season to enter the WNBA Draft, departed as the program’s No. 5 all-time scorer (1,909 points) and was a two-time consensus All-America pick, in addition to garnering the 2015 espnW National Player of the Year award.

As the No. 1 overall choice in the 2015 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm, Loyd was the only WNBA player to rank among the league’s top five rookies in scoring (1st — 10.7 ppg.), rebounding (4th — 3.5 rpg.) and assists (5th — 1.9 apg.) while appearing in 34 games and starting 23 times. She also ranked fourth among all WNBA players (regardless of experience) in free-throw percentage (.904).

During the winter, Loyd is continuing her professional career overseas with one of Europe’s top clubs, Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray. Loyd currently ranks seventh in the Turkish Basketball League in scoring (team-high 18.4 ppg.), while adding 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for Galatasaray, which leads the league with a 13-3 record.

For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, visit the main women’s basketball page on the University’s official athletics web site (UND.com/ndwbb), sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter and Instagram pages (@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.

— ND —

Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).