July 7, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the fourth time in six years, and the sixth time overall, a Notre Dame women’s basketball player will compete for the United States on the international stage, as incoming freshman guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was named to the final 12-member United States U19 World Championship Team, it was announced Tuesday afternoon by USA Basketball.
Diggins will be the first Fighting Irish cager to play for her country since current senior guard Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s) struck gold with the 2007 U19 World Championship Team in Slovakia, becoming the first South Bend-area female to earn a gold medal in an international basketball competition.
Diggins is scheduled to leave Thursday morning for Colorado Springs, Colo., where she will join up with her U19 teammates at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for a week-long training session July 9-16. The squad then will depart for the FIBA U19 World Championships, scheduled for July 23-Aug. 2 in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I feel so incredibly blessed to have this chance to not only play for my country and wear that `USA’ jersey, but also to represent both the city of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame,” Diggins said. “As a team, it’s our responsibility to live up to the tradition of success that was set by those that went before us. We have a lot of work to do before we even get to Thailand, because we know we’re going to get every other country’s best effort, but I’m really excited to get out to Colorado and get started.”
“This is such a tremendous honor and a great opportunity for Skylar,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “To represent your country in an international competition is something not very many people get to do, but she has earned it through her hard work, focus and dedication to making everyone around her better. She’s the consummate teammate and I have no doubt that she and the rest of Team USA will bring home the gold next month.”
McGraw may have even more of a vested interest in the success of this year’s United States U19 World Championship Team, as the squad will be coached by Northern Illinois skipper (and former Notre Dame aide) Carol Owens, with Iowa State’s Bill Fennelly (another former Irish assistant) and Florida’s Amanda Butler serving on Owens’ staff.
Diggins is no stranger to USA Basketball, having earned gold medals at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, as well as the 2008 FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the latter event, she started all five games for the Owens-led United States squad, which went 5-0 and successfully qualified for this year’s U19 World Championship. During the U18 Americas tourney, Diggins averaged 10.8 ppg. (second on team), 3.2 rpg., 3.6 apg. (first on team) and 2.0 spg. (tied-first on team). She also ranked among the top 10 in the entire tournament in scoring (10th), field goal percentage (7th – .500), assists (2nd), steals (tied-8th) and assist/turnover ratio (2nd – 2.00).
At the ’07 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival, Diggins helped the USA White team to a 5-0 record, averaging 8.6 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 3.2 apg., and 2.0 spg., during the round-robin tournament. What’s more, among all 2007 Festival participants, she ranked second in assist/turnover ratio (1.45), fourth in assists (16), tied for eighth in blocks (4) and tied for 10th in steals (10).
Diggins recently completed a magnificent career at Washington High School in South Bend, capped off with Most Valuable Player honors at both the McDonald’s High School All-America Game and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Game — only former Tennessee and current Detroit Shock (WNBA) guard Alexis Hornbuckle had previously won both MVP awards. She also was the consensus 2009 national high school player of the year, earning top billing from Gatorade, the Atlanta Tipoff Club (which presents the Naismith National High School Player of the Year award), ESPN Hoopgurlz and MaxPreps.
Diggins’ prep career may go down as one of the most storied in state history, after she led Washington High School to its fourth consecutive Indiana Class 4A state championship game appearance in 2009, making WHS one of only four schools ever to pull off that feat. In her four years on South Bend’s “West Side,” the Panthers posted a staggering 102-7 (.936) record, winning the 2007 4A state title (the first girls’ crown by a South Bend public school).
While helping WHS to a 26-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking (by ESPN Hoopgurlz) for much of this season, Diggins led the state in scoring at 29.0 points per game, while adding 6.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 5.4 steals and 2.2 blocks per game (ranking sixth in the state in steals and eighth in assists). What’s more, she was an exceptional shooter, connecting at a .616 clip (207-of-336) from the field, including a .406 mark (56-of-138) from three-point range. All told, she piled up 14 30-point games this season, with three coming in the state tournament, including a season-high 38 points in a semi-state victory over Pendleton Heights. She also tallied two double-doubles and one triple-double (nearly a quadruple-double) this year, amassing 28 points, 12 assists, 12 steals and nine rebounds in a season-opening win over LaPorte on Nov. 15.
A four-time high school All-American (including unanimous first-team honors in 2009), a four-time all-state selection and a runaway choice as this year’s Indiana Miss Basketball (leading the Indiana All-Stars to a sweep of their Kentucky counterparts last month), Diggins finished her career with 2,790 points, good for third in Indiana high school history behind only Shanna Zolman and Stephanie White. Overall, she averaged 25.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 4.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, holding Washington High School records in just about every meaningful category, including career and single-season points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. In addition, she owns 4A state championship game records with 17 rebounds (vs. Columbus East in 2007) and four three-pointers made (vs. Castle in 2006), as well as three of the top six scoring performances in the Class 4A title game, including a 29-point effort in this year’s 71-69 last-second loss to co-national No. 1 squad, Ben Davis High School, before more than 13,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in a game many have called the greatest in state history.
Besides Diggins and Lechlitner, other recent representatives of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program to compete on the world stage include: Megan Duffy, who claimed a gold medal as a co-captain and starter for the 2005 USA World University Games Team, and Ruth Riley, who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Senior National Team that struck gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Riley also made prior USA Basketball appearances in 1998 (Select Team) and 1999 (World University Games Team), while former Irish All-Americans Katryna Gaither (two teams, two medals) and Beth Morgan (four teams, three medals) also have suited up for Team USA. All told, Notre Dame players have earned 10 medals in international competition, including five gold medals.
Diggins joins Connecticut incoming freshman Kelly Faris as the two players with BIG EAST Conference ties on this year’s United States U19 World Championship Team. The complete U19 World Championship Team roster can be found on the USA Basketball web site (www.usabasketball.com).
“I think this team offers multiple offensive weapons and has a lot of versatility,” Owens said. “They are a great group of young ladies that will represent our country with class. I am extremely excited. I am really looking forward to seeing the staff and the team and get going. We have a special group and I am can’t wait to work with them. Overall I would like to have an intense and productive training camp. Three things I would like to accomplish are: build team chemistry, establish our offensive and defensive philosophy and prepare the team for the level of competition we will be facing in Bangkok.”
FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, announced on Feb. 26 the draw for the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, and the United States (the event’s two-time defending gold medalist) has been placed in Group D, along with China, Mali and Spain. The Americans will tip off preliminary round play on July 23 at 5:30 a.m. ET (4:30 p.m. local in Bangkok) against Spain, before taking on China (July 24, 8:45 a.m. ET) and Mali (July 25, 8:45 a.m. ET) to complete Group D action.
After the round-robin group stage is complete, the top three teams in each of the four groups will advance to second-round pool play (two groups of six teams competing July 27-29), with the top four squads in each second-round division moving on to the medal round. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be played on consecutive days from July 31-Aug. 2, with the gold medal game slated for 7 a.m. ET (6 p.m. in Thailand) on Aug. 2. All games will be played in two gyms within the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years beginning in 1985. FIBA then changed its calendar in 2005, with the tournament since having been conducted every other year. USA women’s teams are 41-10 in the U19/Junior World Championships, coming home with a record-setting three golds and one bronze, all in the past four tournaments (1997, 2001, 2005, 2007). During its current run of success that started in ’97, the United States has amassed a sharp 29-2 record in U19/Junior World Championship play, including an active 18-game winning streak since a 92-88 upset loss to the host Czech Republic in the 2001 semifinals.
— ND —