When Skylar Diggins arrived in South Bend for her official recruiting visit on Halloween weekend in 2008, she was handed a 21-page printout three weeks in the making that detailed how her future would unfold if she committed to Notre Dame. The color-saturated pages carried a title—SKYLAR DIGGINS: FOUR YEARS UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME—that might have been lifted from a theater marquee. In more than two decades with the Irish, coach Muffet McGraw had never collaborated on such a document. But then she had never pursued a player like Diggins, whom she deemed the most important recruit in the history of the program.
The Timeline, which is how everyone refers to the printout now, foretold Diggins's academic and basketball accomplishments, such as when she would receive the Nancy Lieberman Award, recognizing her as the nation's top point guard (March 29, 2012). It also specified the speeches she would make and the community service she would perform, important matters to a high school star who grew up seven miles southwest of Touchdown Jesus. The predictions even included a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED profile of her on Sept. 12, 2011: The Sky Is Unlimited. The final entry, dated May 23, 2013, had Diggins entering training camp after being selected by the WNBA's Indiana Fever.
Although the SI profile comes two months late (and the headline doesn't quite match), many of the projections, like her status as a 2011--12 preseason All-America and winning a gold medal at the World University Games, have come true. "It's pretty eerie," says Diggins's mother, Renee Scott. "I should ask them to make out a life plan for me."
Written by assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis, the Timeline did not predict a title for the Irish in 2011--12, because forward Devereaux Peters and guard Brittany Mallory were not expected to be in South Bend. But both have been granted a fifth season of eligibility after missing a season due to knee injuries, giving Diggins a chance to rewrite her own history. "It would be a huge disappointment if we don't win a national championship this year," she says.
Diggins was 10 when Notre Dame won its only women's basketball championship. She attended the 2001 victory parade, cheering for All-America center Ruth Riley and sure-handed point guard Niele Ivey, now an assistant to McGraw and a mentor to Diggins. This year's Irish enter the season No. 2, their highest ranking since the final poll of the 2000--01 season. They have six of their top seven scorers back, including Diggins, a 5'9" junior and the Big East preseason player of the year; Natalie Novosel, a senior guard and last season's leading scorer; and Peters, the 2011 Big East defensive player of the year. The squad is also bent on redemption: In last year's title game in Indianapolis, Notre Dame blew a 48--41 lead to Texas A&M early in the second half. The final score—TEXAS A&M 76, NOTRE DAME 70—is written on the main whiteboard in Notre Dame's locker room.
For Diggins, the pain of losing to the Aggies is only now receding. Upon returning to her hotel room after the game, she sobbed uncontrollably, tears falling on the bathroom floor where she sat with her two best friends, Emily Phillips, Diggins's teammate at South Bend's Washington High and now a junior guard at IUPUI, and Candice Wiggins, the Minnesota Lynx guard and former Stanford star. After her mother insisted that Skylar leave her room ("I was just going to sit and sulk the night away," says Diggins), she joined a group of family and friends for a late-night dinner at a Steak 'n Shake near Conseco Fieldhouse—only to watch the entire A&M team and a boisterous group of Aggies supporters enter the restaurant just as she began eating.
Of course, Notre Dame would not have reached the title game without Diggins. She averaged 19.3 points during the NCAA tournament (up from 14.2 during the regular season) and scored 28 points—outperforming player of the year Maya Moore—in a semifinal upset of Connecticut. Against the Huskies, "Skylar put the ball on her hip and said, I am getting us to the national championship," says Ivey. "Watching her will shots in, her creative energy and the way she led us, I sat back and said, Wow. She's arrived."
"I've never thought I had best athletic ability on the court; I just think I'm the most crafty," says Diggins. "I try to make players around me better. I just believe any team I'm on should win."
She gets that wellspring of confidence and determination from her mom, a data technician for the student management office of Washington High. Talk to any of Diggins's close friends, and they need few words to size up the 5'1" Scott's formidable personality. As Phillips puts it, "Miss Renee don't play."
Miss Renee's rules were not negotiable. Among them: an 11 p.m. curfew for Skylar during her senior year of high school, a signed contract prohibiting anyone else from driving Skylar's car and a permanent ban on using the word can't. As for dating, potential suitors had to meet Renee and Moe Scott, Skylar's stepfather. Renee would write down the license-plate number, make and model of the young man's car, and demand a cellphone number. Explains Renee, "I would say very calmly, 'This is my daughter, and I know where to find you.'"
Diggins thrived under the discipline, in an environment in which achievement was expected. "When Skylar was little, we were playing Connect Four, and she refused to quit until she beat me," says Moe, who is the director of the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in South Bend and the girls' basketball coach at Washington High, where he coached Diggins in her senior season. "We played 20 times, and she kept demanding, 'Let's play again. It's not over until I win.' At that moment I realized this kid is going to be competitive with everything she does."
Says Renee, "Maurice handled everything with athletics, and I handed the discipline and academics. We knew what she was capable of, and we were not going to accept anything less than what we knew she was able to do."
Renee and Moe, whom Skylar calls Daddy Moe, have been together since Skylar was three; they married in 1997. They have a 13-year-old son Maurice (known as Junior), who is a sweet-shooting lefty point guard like his sister. Skylar's father, Tige Diggins, an owner of a construction drywall business in Tampa, is remarried with two young boys. Basketball brings all of them together, and it's not uncommon for dozens of Digginses and Scotts to sit en masse when Skylar plays.
As a kid Skylar spent most of her free time with Moe at the MLK Center, where she used the courts and workout room as her own training facility. By age nine she was starring on AAU teams coached by Moe and had developed a reputation as the best young player in the area. McGraw offered Skylar a scholarship when she was in eighth grade—the first and likely the last time, McGraw says, she will do that for a player.
With Diggins running the point, Washington High won the Class 4A state title in 2007 and was the runner-up in '06, '08 and '09. Diggins was also a star in the classroom; her 3.91 GPA ranked sixth in her class. She was recruited by all the women's basketball powers and didn't make her decision between finalists Stanford and Notre Dame until the morning the signing period ended in November 2008. "For us to let someone of that stature get away," says McGraw, "it would have been a real serious blow to our program." Season tickets increased by 1,500 before Diggins's freshman year, and in '10--11 Notre Dame broke its single-season attendance record, drawing 8,553 fans per game.
Diggins is strong off the dribble and has a quick, accurate (43.5%) pull-up jumper when defenders cheat toward the basket. Opposing players say that it's hard to read her game—especially because she's lefthanded—and that she's exceptionally skilled at drawing fouls. This off-season Diggins worked on improving her three-point shooting and dedicated herself in the weight room, lifting beside the strongest player on the team, Novosel.
"You can't double her too much because their other guards are such good scorers," says UConn coach Geno Auriemma. "And as her jump shot has gotten better, it forces you to come up on her, and she's so good at going by you."
McGraw, who has coached Notre Dame since 1987, compares Diggins's star power with that of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn (2003--06). But Quinn didn't attend school in the age of Twitter, and if social media is a metric of popularity, Diggins is the most popular women's basketball player ever. She is closing in on 125,000 Twitter followers, and based on Tweetscenter, a site that attempts to measure the most-popular athletes on Twitter, she ranks fifth among athletes, ahead of Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard and just behind LeBron James.
Her fame exploded last year at the Final Four, when rap star Lil Wayne (nearly four million followers) gave her a shoutout on Twitter before Notre Dame's win over UConn. ("Good lukk to my wife Skylar Diggins and the Fighting Irish.") R&B star Chris Brown followed with his own love nod: "Skylar Diggins ... She's a cutie @skydigg4 congrats beautiful."
If McGraw worries about anything with Diggins, it's the preoccupation with her appearance. "She's a beautiful girl, a great basketball player, a great student and a great person, so I'm not surprised that the cameras focus on her," McGraw says. "But it bothers me a little bit that there is a superficial content to it. Lil Wayne and some of these guys look at her without even knowing her. And knowing her is the best part."
Her stardom has resulted in at least one ugly incident: Shortly after the Final Four, nude photos of a woman who resembled Diggins (but it was not her) were posted on the Internet. Notre Dame's general counsel sent cease-and-desist orders to a number of websites that published the photos claiming it was Diggins, and Diggins took to Twitter to issue four strongly worded tweets expressing her dismay. Asked last month what she has learned about celebrity, Diggins said, "Not everyone wants you to do well. I mean, why not? I feel like I am doing positive things. I didn't understand it. I had to learn that the hard way. I've become emotionally numb to the bad, but I still appreciate the good."
A self-proclaimed girly girl, Diggins gets her eyebrows and nails done before every game ("Bright pink and red pop for the TV cameras," she says) and often changes her hairstyle at halftime, depending on how she is playing. Diggins initially planned a premed major but is now studying business management and entrepreneurship; her interests have shifted to a postbasketball career in broadcasting or coaching.
Renee keeps her copy of the Timeline in a gold-colored box that Notre Dame sent during its recruitment of her daughter. She says she looks at it only once a year, at the start of the season. "It's about time I pull it out again and see what they said next," says Renee.
Diggins hasn't looked at hers in a long time. "My copy has dust on it by now," she says. She's charting her own future, and that suits Notre Dame just fine.
"WATCHING HER WILL SHOTS IN, HER CREATIVE ENERGY AND THE WAY SHE LED US, I SAID, WOW. SHE'S ARRIVED," IVEY SAYS OF DIGGINS'S GAME AGAINST UCONN.
Photograph by BILL FRAKES
DOWN TO BUSINESS A self-proclaimed girly girl—she sometimes changes her hairstyle at halftime—Diggins is nothing but serious about winning a national title for Notre Dame this season.
RISING SKY Diggins's breakout performance in the Final Four had fans a-Twitter, but her burgeoning celebrity worries McGraw (far right).
[See caption above]