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ND Women’s Basketball: Diggins stays in South Bend

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, November 21, 2008

After years of waiting, Muffet McGraw can finally relax. That’s because the Notre Dame coach finally landed Skylar Diggins – a five-star senior guard from Washington High School in South Bend. Diggins signed her letter of intent to play for the Irish beginning next fall earlier this week. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t give McGraw one last scare. “I kept looking over to the seats wondering when she was going to get there because she wasn’t there at the beginning,” McGraw said at a press conference announcing the signing Thursday. “And then after the game she came in to the locker room with the stat and she kind of looked down and said ‘Boy, I’m just wondering where you’re going to play me next year.’ And at first I thought she meant we had too many guards and I didn’t think she was going to fit, and I had a moment of ‘I better explain this right away.’ “And then I just realized she was saying ‘Yes.’ There was some pandemonium in the locker room. Unlike with most players, who start getting heavily recruited later in their high school careers, Diggins’ process began much earlier. McGraw said she first offered the 5-foot-9 guard a scholarship in eighth grade. “We had seen her play and I knew she was going to be a great player,” McGraw said. “… She was really special and I think we could tell that right away.” Previously, the earliest McGraw said she offered a scholarship was during the sophomore seasons of current juniors Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner. “They both committed at the offer, so that’s why we thought it was supposed to work,” McGraw said jokingly. One of the things that made signing Diggins more difficult than any other prospect during McGraw’s long tenure at Notre Dame is that she is by far the highest ranked prospect to commit to the University in program history. McGraw said the national attention Diggins received made recruiting her a lot more stressful than her experience with other players. “It is a long process, and I think it got a little more stressful as the process went on,” McGraw said. “We were just trying to not put pressure on her, and trying to let her come to the decision herself without trying to talk her into it.” The fact that Diggins is a South Bend native helped ease the process, McGraw said, since she and her staff could put in a lot of face time at Diggins’ high school games. McGraw said she almost had to “guard her turf” because of the number of coaches flying into South Bend to watch Diggins play. “We keep talking to people at the airport to delay the flights coming in, put that fence up around town, charge a toll to get in. We could have made a lot of money this year,” McGraw said. Regardless of the extra attention on Diggins, McGraw said the process remained the same as it has with all of her other players. “Most of [the girls on the team] committed so early in the process, none of them except for [sophomore forward] Devereaux [Peters], took any other official visits,” she said. Diggins is currently 19th on the all-time scorers’ list in Indiana high school girls basketball with 2,036 points. She has averaged 24.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 4.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game during her three years on the varsity team at Washington. She has also started 81 of 82 games at the school – which has a 76-6 record in the last three seasons – and won the state championship her sophomore season. Diggins joins point guard Kaila Turner from Joliet, Ill., and Marian Catholic High School as this year’s recruiting class – ranked between No. 13 and No. 18 by national recruiting services. This marks the twelfth consecutive top 25 recruiting class for the Irish, a feat matched only by perennial powerhouses Tennessee and Connecticut. McGraw said her recruiting is likely done, unless a big name post player comes up later in the process. If current senior guard Lindsay Schrader opts to take her redshirt fifth-year (earned after tearing her ACL two seasons ago), the Irish will have 13 players on the roster next season. But looking into the more immediate future, the Irish will take on Boston College Sunday at Chestnut Hills, Mass. The Eagles currently sit at 3-0, thanks in large part to their front court. Center Carolyn Swords stands at 6-foot-6 and forward Stefanie Murphy have helped lead the scoring so far this year for Boston College. Swords is first on the team, averaging a double-double through three games at 21.7 points and 10 boards, while Murphy is third with 11 points per game. “We’re going to count on Erica Williamson and hope our post defense can really come through for us,” McGraw said. McGraw said the team will be working on boxing out and rebounding this week at practice to make up for the size differential. In Notre Dame’s last game, a 96-61 win over Evansville Wednesday night, the Irish were outrebounded 42-36. McGraw said she doesn’t expect her team to play as much man-to-man defense to avoid mismatches, but added that this game will come to which scheme will work best. “We’ll see is it a speed issue or a size issue, what’s going to win,” she said.