Leaders of the Pack: Skylar Diggins-Smith

Entering her sixth year in the WNBA, Skylar Diggins-Smith is an established leader for the Wings. She is the driving force that makes the team go. People have always rallied around her, which is something she learned from her mom.

“I have always been really confident and really headstrong,” said Diggins-Smith. “I feel like I have always been an alpha female, and I think that is something I got from my mom. I have never seen myself as a follower. I try to do the right things to get people to want to follow me. I think that is why people see me as a leader, because I put the work in and show that I am a hard worker.”

The three-time WNBA all-star learned from some great people at Notre Dame, including current head coach Muffet McGraw and assistant coach Niele Ivy. The pair helped Diggins-Smith develop into the player and leader that she is today, epecially since she was thrown into the point guard position after her freshman year.

“I really got thrown into the point guard position,” said Diggins-Smith. “My freshman year I started with all seniors at the two position. My sophomore year we graduated five seniors and we did not have a point guard. Muffet McGraw and Niele Ivy were the two women that helped me develop my game and get ready for the pros. I had great leadership from Coach McGraw and Coach Ivy, who is a national champion as a player. I learned from the best at Notre Dame.”

Diggins-Smith finished her career at Notre Dame as a three-time All-American, while leading the Fighting Irish to three NCAA Final Fours and two national championship appearances. She was a two-time Big East Player of the Year and is the all-time leader in scoring and steals for the Irish. Her outstanding collegiate career propelled her to be the third pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.

She began her professional career by leading rookies in assists and being nominated to the All-Rookie team. Diggins-Smith quickly launched herself into a WNBA star and took over as the face of the franchise. A natural born leader, she was named team captain for the first time last season. Heading into her second year as captain, she leads a team poised to make their mark on the WNBA.

As the leader of a team with lofty expectations, Diggins-Smith faces many challenges, including acclimating one of the best players in the world to the Wings. Liz Cambage, the 6-foot-8 Australian center, signed with the team in February. The duo played together in 2013 in Tulsa, which eases the transition process from overseas to the WNBA.

“We want her to be comfortable,” said Diggins-Smith. “She is coming all the way over from Australia. We are in a totally different place as an organization than we were when she was first on the team. I think everyone has evolved and matured. It is great to see her performing at a high level overseas and joining our team right now.”

One thing Diggins-Smith doesn’t have to worry about is meeting a ton of new players. The Wings retained 11 of their 12 players from a season ago, something she credits to the organization.

“This is the first year that I have played in the WNBA where my team had an expectation,” said Diggins-Smith. “I feel like we are as talented as any roster in the league. The organization has been able to put our team in a situation where we are confident coming into the games. There are so many great teams that have been together for multiple years. And that is what we did this year, we retained a lot of our roster from last season. We do not have to meet as many new people as we have had to in the past. Now these rookies are sophomores and the second-year players are third-year players. We are trying to mix and match that experience and get the new players integrated as well.”

The second-year captain believes the Wings can make a run in the postseason this year. After earning first-team all-WNBA honors a year ago, Diggins-Smith doesn’t put too much pressure on her individual accomplishments. She is focusing on the team’s success and not worrying about individual achievements.

“Winning changes everything,” said Diggins-Smith. “If we win, I do not have to have any individual expectations. I mean if we win the finals, I want to be finals MVP. But all that individual success comes with team success, so I just think if we are building off last year we will be good. We just need to come in, take control and really optimize the talent that we have on this team. I think we can go a long way, we just have to put it together. We have two good tests on Monday and Tuesday in the tournament, so it is going to be exciting to see what we look like for real.”

Diggins-Smith will lead the Wings as they play three preseason games, including a home game on May 13. The regular season tips off in Phoenix on May 18, with the home opener scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 20.