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Skylar Diggins Exclusive Interview: UConn, Muffet, Soap Operas, and Space Jam

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Pat Rick spoke to Notre Dame basketball legend Skylar Diggins about this year’s NCAA Tournament, whether or not she hates UConn, the origin story of her name, and lots more in this tell-all interview

NCAA Women's  Final Four - Notre Dame v Connecticut Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

With Final Four weekend upon us, I figured I should talk to someone with extensive Final Four experience for an interview article. This was a great idea.

With an interview set up with someone who fit the bill, I then asked my Twitter followers to give me questions to ask this former Final Four mainstay. This was a better idea.

So, below is my interview with former Notre Dame star, current Dallas Wings player, and forever Purcell Pavilion Ring of Honoree, Skylar Diggins.

NCAA Women's  Final Four - Notre Dame v Connecticut Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We discussed this year’s ND women’s team, her feelings toward UConn, what it meant to play for Muffet McGraw, her favorite scene from Space Jam, and her views on shooting free throws granny-style, among other, more...unusual subjects.

Let’s get after it.

***

Pat Rick: Okay let’s start with the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team - I understand you and the rest of the panel have it down to ten finalists, and you all will be in Dallas for the Final Four and volunteering at Cook Children's Medical Center...can you tell me more about how those finalists were chosen and what it means that these young women are giving so much back to their communities?

Skylar Diggins: They’re honored for their initiative in the community, as well as for being student athletes — just showing great initiative in their communities, both domestically and internationally. They’re putting on basketball camps, like Sandra Udobi, who’s a player from St. John’s, who was putting on camps back in Africa and in the United States.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs St. John's Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

There are just so many great initiatives these ladies are doing, the list goes on and on — volunteering hundreds of hours of community service, working with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, volunteering with mentorship programs, etc. So definitely what I love about this award is that it’s showcasing what they do off the floor, and they’re being recognized for that and for giving back to the community.

PR: Okay so now let's talk ND basketball...I'm sure you were watching Notre Dame closely here in March. Brianna Turner went down with a torn ACL against Purdue, the team rallied to beat Ohio State, and then they lost a heart-breaker to Stanford in last Sunday’s regional final. What was it about this year's team that they were able to keep competing after losing an All-American?

SD: First of all, just having the best staff in the land, being great at making adjustments, and obviously Coach McGraw being a Hall of Fame coach. And then the players just being able to rally around their teammate -- I was really proud of how they responded, you know?

Obviously it didn’t turn out how they would like, with an opportunity to come to the Final Four, but they fought —they fought to the end — and I couldn’t be more proud of that team.

I feel terrible for Brianna Turner, obviously, and her situation. I wish her the best of luck. I think the one thing about that, that I wouldn’t say is fortunate or unfortunate, is that Notre dame has a community of women that have been through what she’s gonna go through, and she just has a family — including myself — who are gonna make sure that she has a great support system in her recovery.

She’s young and she’s a great player and her future is very bright in the game of basketball. She could play for as long as she wants to. I’m looking forward to seeing the future of the team, though, and seeing next year how this may fuel their fire.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Notre Dame Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

PR: Who do you think is going to win the title? Think it’s a foregone conclusion that UConn takes it again?

SD: I think you definitely have to say that they’re the best team going into it, so they leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that they wouldn’t win it. But I think you have three great other teams in South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Stanford - all those maroon-colored schools represented.

But you know, I just think those are 3 great teams, with 3 great coaches, and a lot of players on that Mississippi State team, specifically, that play defense. And I think with a team like UConn, you have to play defense and try to match up with them defensively, try to make them take tough shots, and have lots of rebounders.

Mississippi State has 6’7” Teaira McCowan, who had a breakout game in her Sweet Sixteen game. She has been great for them, so they definitely have the height to do it, and they play defense.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma City Regional-Mississippi State vs Washington Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

But you know, with a team like UConn you have to make them miss shots, and you don’t really have very many opportunities to turn the ball over, so I just wanna see a good match-up, and 3 good, competitive games

PR: Let’s talk a bit more about the Huskies. Do you hate UConn? You played them 3-4 times per year when you were at ND, and those games were always huge. You're allowed to both respect them and hate them, so what are your feelings toward them? How do you think they've been able to be this good for so long?

SD: For me I would say now, and even then, I didn’t think too much about it. But especially now I wouldn’t say I’ve thought about it too much outside of our competition. I wouldn’t say I've got anything against the group — the UConn team — now, or even then.

I think they were just competitive games, and we played them so many times, and then every time we faced them there was a lot on the line, especially my last year there. We would just have to continue to see this team. I don’t know if we were sick of playing each other or if it was just like, “man, there’s a lot at stake when we play each other,” because it was a big stage every time we played.

NCAA Women's  Final Four - Notre Dame v Connecticut Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

But that was the personality of the game, you had two teams that DID NOT WANT TO LOSE. That’s definitely how the game goes, and I think that the more the fans and the media would hype it up, the bigger the game came, the bigger the moment came, and it was like, “well, no, we don’t really care for you too much.”

There’s definitely no love lost, definitely no love lost. But that was in the moment of competition. It was never personal or anything. Those were actually some of my favorite games to play in.

NCAA Women's Final Four - Notre Dame v Connecticut Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

But yeah, I think what they’re doing now is impressive, very impressive.

I respect ‘em. You gotta respect ‘em. But you ain’t gotta like ‘em. You ain’t gotta like ‘em, but I respect what they’re doing.

PR: And then with the two legendary coaches, Geno and Muffet, they seem to get heated at times as well...after playing for Muffet for 4 years, tell me, is there some real animosity there, or is it just two competitive people getting after it?

SD: So you have to think — with Geno, you never have to wonder what he’s thinking. And Coach McGraw — she’s from Philly. She’s a Philly girl, so she has a little flavor to her, ya know? She’s definitely gonna speak her mind and say how she feels.

So I just think that their personalities — two personalities that are strong and that are gonna say how they feel and speak their opinion, two very respected coaches — I think ultimately what trumps everything is the respect they have for each other as coaches, and respect for their accomplishments, and to me that is what always shines through.

Notre Dame v Connecticut Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Was it a quote or two that may have gotten under each other’s skin? Heck yeah, like I said, that goes back to the heat of the moment. We played each other in Final Fours and Big East games and conference championships, and there was always so much on the line.

In the heat of the moment, maybe there are some things that are said, but like I said I think it’s just all in the fun of the game, and I feel like coach can agree with me when I say that you know those were some of our best match-ups. We had to rise to the level of play that they had, so they definitely brought out the best in us.

PR: What were your big takeaways from playing for a legend like Muffet for 4 years?

SD: I learned that we were a lot alike — our personalities, our competitive spirit, how we always said how we felt. She challenged me, and even if I didn’t like to hear what she was saying, she was probably right.

The magnitude of it didn’t really hit until afterward, but I played for one of the best coaches, male or female, to ever coach the game of basketball. And there are many coaches that won’t ever even get to 100 or 200 wins, let alone 800, almost 900 wins, and, you know, approaching 1,000 wins.

Walmart Carrier Classic - Notre Dame v Ohio State Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

So, just playing for one of the best coaches, she taught me so much about my game — developed me, challenged me — and it’s definitely the best decision I made in my young life. She absolutely cares about her players more than just basketball. It’s not just about X’s and O’s, she cares about you.

From checking in and making sure you’re going to class and checking in on your grades, to caring about your family and understanding that we are kids when we first get there, and it’s scary being away from home. I didn’t have to go too far, but understanding that it’s a commitment to come to the University and be a part of it, and that it’s hard playing for one of the best.

She had great expectations and it definitely made us challenge ourselves, and that’s why we were so successful, and continue to be so successful.

PR: We're about a month and a half from the beginning of the Dallas Wings season - how's the team looking, what are your expectations for the season, etc.?

SD: I think the biggest team goal this year is making the playoffs. This will be my 5th year in the league. Obviously, after losing a year and coming back off of my knee injury last year, I’m anxious to go this season. I’m healthy, and anxious to have the opportunity to play for a championship, ya know, to make the playoffs.

I’ve always been known for going so far in the NCAA Tournament, but at my professional level I just want to have the opportunity to compete for a championship, and it starts in the playoffs, so I’m excited about our team.

WNBA All-Star Game 2014 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’m excited about the draft, too. We have the 3rd pick, the 4th pick, and the 10th pick in the WNBA Draft, so we’re going to get some great picks. I’m excited to see what our team will look like, and camp is right around the corner, so I’m just training and getting ready for that. I’m definitely excited about this season.

PR: Okay, this is the part where I ask you some of the questions people gave me on Twitter. It might get a little strange, but just go with it. First one isn’t too bad — what was your favorite scene from Space Jam?

My favorite scene from Space Jam is the extended arm scene. You can just see the Monstars holding onto him, with their eyes closed, trying to hold him down.

People are always trying to hate on Michael Jordan, so that was definitely, definitely, definitely metaphoric. But I love the extended arm scene, it’s iconic.

PR: What is it like to have a great sports name?

Maaaaan, thanks mom!

You know, my mom actually got my name from a soap opera. She didn’t play basketball, she was like 5-foot, so she was like a gymnast. So I don’t know if they got my name knowing that my future would be in basketball, but it worked out for me.

PR: Do you know what soap opera it’s from?

Uhhhhh I believe it was The Young and the Restless? I’m not for sure, it might have been The Young and the Restless, but it was a guest character, and it was a guy, and his name was Skylar.

My grandmother and mom, they are responsible. So I don’t know if they had hopes of me being in sports because my mom is like 5-foot, but maybe my dad did, I don’t know. I’ll take it.

PR: Have you ever done the thing where a movie theater guy says "enjoy your show" and you say "thanks, you too" and feel super dumb?

Yes. Oh my God, yes.

Or like with a flight attendant, they’ll say “enjoy your flight” and I’m like, “you too.”

Ohhhh man, you just gotta take your ticket and keep walking. You gotta keep walking.

PR: Would you shoot underhand free throws if you were guaranteed to make every single one?

Absolutely. Absolutely. As long as it’s going in.

If I knew it was going in, I’d shoot underhand from 3, if I knew it was a guarantee.

PR: This one is probably unnecessary to ask, but would you rather be the greatest basketball player in the history of the world, or cure cancer but have nobody know you did it?

Yeah I would say I wanna cure cancer. I’d say that’s more important, curing cancer.

And being the greatest in the world is always gonna be arguable to somebody. So definitely if I could cure cancer, I wouldn’t care if people knew I did or not. I think that pretty much explains itself.

PR: Final question, and this one is going to be odd but it’s near and dear to my heart. You know that kids song that goes "There was a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was his name-o"? Is "Bingo" the dog, or could it actually be the farmer?

(muffled laughter)

(Skylar singing the song quietly to herself)

It definitely was the dog.

PR: Definitely the dog?

I mean, now I’m a little self-conscious about it, because now I’m thinking, “dang, it could be the farmer.”

But I just gotta go with my gut. I’ve known it since I was a child, so you can’t change it for me. It has to be the dog.

I won’t have it any other way. It’d change the course of my life.

***

I just wanna thank Skylar for again allowing me to talk to her on the phone for an extended period of time, and for answering all of my questions, despite how strange some of them were.

Also thank you to those who submitted questions for her, and I apologize if I didn’t ask your question. Maybe next time, folks.