Muffet McGraw was astonished to see Skylar Diggins Smith play as a point guard. She knew that she would offer a scholarship to the freshman.
McGraw, Notre Dame's female college basketball coach at the moment, recalls thinking, "This kid's gonna be special." It was her presence that made a lot of the difference. Our first year together was on campus. We talked about mature topics and shared our experiences. Then, on the court, I felt like I had met my match as the most competitive person that I have ever known."
McGraw was correct.
Diggins-Smith became one of the most decorated and successful players in Fighting Irish basketball history. She was the team's point-guard from 2009-13 and helped Notre Dame to its first Final Four in 10 year. Three-time All-American Diggins-Smith led Notre Dame to its second straight trip to the national championship. Her unwavering confidence and clutch play enabled the Irish to compete with UConn for the national championship. The rivalry was the most intense in women's college basketball, and it helped to transform the Big East into one of the sport's top conferences.
McGraw, who was a Notre Dame coach for 32 seasons, said that McGraw "changed [the] program." "She transformed our culture."
More program-changing guards were added. Jewell Loyd was introduced in 2012. Arike Ogunbowale appeared in 2015. Jackie Young in 2016. In 2016, Jackie Young was the face of a program that had just lost its NCAA title to Ruth Riley, an All-American center. It became well-known for its backcourt talent. In 2018, Ogunbowale, Young and Young led Notre Dame to their second national championship.
Riley was the gold-medal winner team of USA Basketball in 2004 Athens Games. She had been Notre Dame's only Olympian in women’s hoops for a long time. USA Basketball is heavily influenced by Notre Dame, but this month's Tokyo Games will be different. Diggins-Smith, Loyd and Loyd will be making their Olympic debuts as the women's 5-on-5 team aims for its seventh consecutive Olympic gold. Young has won gold in Tokyo and helped the U.S. win the inaugural 3x3 women’s tournament.
Niele Ivey, current Notre Dame coach, said that "To have such many Olympic guards who have gone to the program makes me so proud." It makes me happy.
Jewell Loyd had been in Team USA's Olympic opener against Nigerian, but she has now been removed from the lineup after Diana Taurasi returned from a hip injury. Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images
VETERANS SUE BIRD and DIANA TAURASI are the Team USA starting guards. They want to be the first women's basketball player to win five Olympic gold medals. Loyd, 23, Young, 23 and Diggins Smith, who turned 31 Monday, could be the future for the U.S. women’s backcourt.
Loyd opened the Olympic opener against Nigeria with a win of 81 to 72. Taurasi was unable to return from a hip injury. Since then, she has been on the bench and has scored 22 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds in three games for the U.S. Women. They have yet to look in sync at Tokyo, but will face Australia on Wednesday (12.40 a.m.). ET) in the quarterfinals.
McGraw stated that Loyd, like Diggins Smith, helped Notre Dame achieve back-to-back appearances at the NCAA title games.
McGraw stated that she was "the most talented player we've ever had [at Notre Dame]". McGraw said, "She was just going to step in and be really great."
Loyd was the fifth-highest scorer in South Bend's history, and the No. Loyd was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 WNBA draft. She is a two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm and has worked hard for both the top and bottom of the floor.
Former Storm head coach Dan Hughes said that "Her defensive growth has been remarkable." He is now an assistant coach for Dawn Staley's Team USA team in Tokyo. "And she's become an extremely effective player, both with and without the ball at the offensive end."
Loyd is averaging 17.5 ppg, 4.2 RPG, and 4.2 APG in the WNBA this season while shooting a career-best 44% from the field. She acknowledged that collegiate success does not necessarily translate into success in the WNBA. However, she stated that playing at Notre Dame helped her make the transition.
Loyd stated that it has been an interesting journey for many of us during Team USA's Las Vegas training camp last month. It's kinda a complete circle for me. All my hard work, through college and trying to figure out who i am in the league, all that lead to me becoming an Olympian.
Loyd and Diggins Smith were both named to the 5-on-5 U.S. Olympic roster. However, the Las Vegas Aces' Young didn't expect to be in Tokyo. The 2019 No. The 2019 No. 1 draft pick was on vacation in Florida, where the WNBA had paused their season for the Olympic break. She was then named a replacement for Katie Lou Samuelson, a 3x3 player.
Kara Lawson, U.S. 3x3 coach, said that Jackie was probably on a beach 10 days ago and that she now has a gold medal. She really did well for us. This competition is extremely challenging. It's unusual to not have any practice with a player and then win the tournament. It speaks to the players' intelligence, toughness, team spirit, and flexibility. This tournament is demanding of you.
Diggins-Smith, a five-time WNBA All-Star and averaging 19.1 points per game this season for Phoenix Mercury, has only seen a few minutes at the Tokyo Games. However Staley praised all U.S. reserve players for their role in practice as well as in games.
"I have told our team that although they might not play as many games as the first, the second unit they provide [helps]," stated Staley, who was a player on three gold-medal winning USA Basketball teams. They were able to simulate the pressures we faced with Japan and Nigeria. Their preparation made us feel better on the ground.
Diggins-Smith is currently in her eighth WNBA year (she missed 2019, after giving birth) and is playing some of her best basketball. She is one the feistiest WNBA guards. She is able to find a teammate and attack the basket with ease. She can also disrupt defensively by trapping her opponents when she has the ball.
How has her game evolved since college?
Diggins-Smith stated, "Experience is the best teacher."
Jackie Young started 21 of the 21 Las Vegas games this season, averaging 12.6 PPG. For the 3x3 gold medal, she teamed up with Allisha Gray, Stefanie Dolson and Kelsey Plum. Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images
WHAT OTHER DAME PLAYER MAY BE NEXT for the U.S. Olympic Team? Ogunbowale was rewarded with 26 points and the MVP award in last month's WNBA All-Star Game. Team WNBA defeated Team USA 93-85. She has participated in many international events, and she helped USA Basketball win gold at the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup.
Ogunbowale (24 years old) led the WNBA scoring last season with 22.8 PPG. She ranks eighth this year with 18.9 PPG. The Dallas Wings star Ogunbowale, 24, was a long-time favorite because she is one of the best shooters in women's hockey.
Ogunbowale's two biggest shots during the Irish's 2018 national championship run were made shortly after Diggins-Smith broke the record for the all-time top scorer at Notre Dame. In the semifinals against UConn she made the winning shot in overtime. Her 3-pointer in final seconds against Mississippi State was the crowning moment of the championship game's history.
Ivey stated that this is the Skylar effect -- which has rubbed off onto the program.
Ivey stated, "She changed our mindset. That level of competition -- that level of swag you inherit from us when we come here" It's a Notre Dame tradition.