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Robison: Loss marks the end of an era for Irish basketball

Matt Robison | Monday, April 8, 2013

Watching Skylar Diggins exit the game Sunday night knowing it would be the final time she did so for Notre Dame was almost tragic. After four historic years in an Irish uniform, Diggins’ last chance to win the ultimate price had once again ended on a sour note.
But the greatest tragedy of Sunday night’s loss to Connecticut did not happen on the basketball court. Rather, the greatest potential tragedy lies within the hearts and minds of fans. Diggins should be remembered for what she’s done for Notre Dame, and for women’s basketball in general.
As one of the most heavily recruited high school players in the class of 2009, Diggins had her pick of nation’s elite programs. But she decided to stay at home and play for Notre Dame. Since then, she’s relaunched the program onto the national stage. She’s become the rallying point around which Notre Dame and South Bend congregate to cheer on the Irish.
In women’s basketball, sellouts of major college arenas are nearly unheard of. But in the last four years, they’ve become commonplace. At many colleges, students are given extra credit in class or free t-shirts just for showing up to big games. At Notre Dame, because of the excitement surrounding Diggins and the Irish, students have to show up early just to get a seat.
If we can use her 341,000 Twitter followers as an appropriate measure, she’s the most popular college athlete in the country. She’s become a hero to thousands of young girls aspiring to reach the heights Diggins has by joining her “Headband Nation,” a tribute to Skylar’s trademark style.
What’s Diggins has done for Notre Dame, for South Bend and for women’s basketball in general cannot be overstated.
But there are those who will try to dampen her legacy by saying she never won it all. They’ll categorize her with other great and professional greats who could never win a championship. And that would be a tragedy. Yes, in today’s world of sports, championships are the ultimate measure of greatness. But the fact that Skylar came home “empty-handed” in her three straight Final Four trips should do nothing to diminish her legacy.
The objective statistics speak for themselves. She’s a four-time All-American. She’s Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer. She’s won Big East Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. She and teammate Kaila Turner have won more games than any other class in program history. The laundry list of accolades and records goes on and on.
But beyond that, her intangible impact on Notre Dame, on South Bend and on the game should be what people remember about Skylar Diggins.
She wins with class. She loses with grace. She’s done everything with integrity, heart and undying effort.
After the game, Diggins expressed her gratitude to the fans and city of South Bend for their support. But there is a tremendous amount of gratitude for what’s done as well.
For everything she’s done, no one could possibly have asked more of Skylar Diggins.
She may have not won the ultimate prize, but she will forever have a winning legacy at Notre Dame in more ways than one. The fact that the Irish never cut down a net and brought home a national title during Diggins’ time is sad.
But to remember her for anything other than the tremendous, positive impact she has had would be a real tragedy.
    Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.