Skylar Diggins

Skylar Diggins
Getty Images

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Leave a comment

Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

Best women’s basketball players who haven’t made the Olympics

Skylar Diggins
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Elena Delle DonneBrittney Griner and Breanna Stewart are arguably the three most accomplished players in the WNBA era yet to play in the Olympics.

(Yes, Stewart hasn’t played a pro game yet, but her NCAA record is unmatched)

That should all change in August, when the trio plus nine Americans who already own gold medals make up Team USA in Rio.

Who does that leave as the best players in the WNBA’s 19 seasons not to play at the Olympics?

Seven All-WNBA first-team players haven’t made an Olympic team:

1999, 2000 — Ticha Penicheiro
2001 — Merlakia Jones
2005, 2007 — Deanna Nolan
2006 — Katie Douglas
2008 — Sophia Young
2014 — Skylar Diggins
2015 — DeWanna Bonner

Penicheiro is Portuguese, and her national team never qualified for the Olympics.

Jones made the first three WNBA All-Star Games in 1999, 2000 and 2001, but she was not one of six alternates for the 2000 Olympic team.

Nolan and Douglas were on the 21-woman U.S. national team for 2007-08 but not the 12-woman roster in Beijing. In fact, Nolan tried out for the Russian Olympic team in 2008 but didn’t make it (unlike Becky Hammon).

Young was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and was among 21 finalists for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

Diggins was one of the final four cuts for the 2014 World Championship team and was among 25 finalists for the Rio team but didn’t make it. She’s coming back from a June 28 torn ACL.

Bonner was not among the 25 finalists for the Rio Olympic team.

The WNBA players with the most All-Star nods not to make an Olympic team:

7 — Nykesha Sales (1999-2006)
6 — Taj McWilliams-Franklin (1999-2001, 2005-07)
5 — Katie Douglas (2006-07, ’09, ’11, ’14)
5 — Candice Dupree (2006-07, ’09, ’14-15)

Sales was one of six alternates for the 2000 Olympic team.

There’s no widespread mention of McWilliams-Franklin being in the running for an Olympic spot in 2000, 2004 or 2008. Her best WNBA seasons were in the middle of an Olympic cycle in 2005 and 2006.

Dupree made the 2014 World Championship team and was among 25 finalists for the Rio Olympic team.

MORE: Why Candace Parker was left off Olympic team

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Merlakia Jones did not make a WNBA All-Star team.

Skylar Diggins reflects on getting cut from World Championships team

Skylar Diggins
Leave a comment

Skylar Diggins met with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan and coach Geno Auriemma in September in France to receive news common in sports but unusual for a player of her stature.

You didn’t make the team.

Diggins, an All-American at Notre Dame and All-Star with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock, was one of three cuts following the U.S.’ exhibition loss to France on Sept. 21, six days before the World Championships. Diggins didn’t play against France, the U.S.’ first loss since 2011.

The cuts brought the U.S. down to 13 players. One more player was cut later that week to reach the roster maximum of 12. The Olympic roster chosen next year is also a maximum of 12.

“We have the best players in the world competing to be on the best team in the world,” Diggins said while in New York for NBA All-Star weekend. “It’s going to be challenging. There’s only 12 spots, and there’s way, way, way more than 12 players who could be deserving of those spots.

“The committee chose what they wanted. For me, it’s all about that experience. I have many years with USA Basketball, many great experiences. Any time they call on me, I’m going to show up and try out to make a team.”

Diggins, a guard, tried out for the team following her second professional season and a WNBA Most Improved Player award.

The guards who made the team included Olympic champions Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen as well as Odyssey Sims, Diggins’ teammate with the Tulsa Shock who was coming off her rookie season.

The U.S., without Diggins, won the World Championship in Turkey to clinch a 2016 Olympic berth.

Asked if there’s anything Diggins wanted to say to or show Auriemma in future camps before the Olympic team is chosen, she said no.

“I’m going to continue to be myself,” Diggins said. “I learned a lot from the vets out there.”

In September, Auriemma spoke to the difficulty in selecting a 12-player team among the U.S. talent pool. And that was without the injured frontcourt players Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker.

The final four players cut — Diggins, Stefanie Dolson, Kayla McBride and Jantel Lavender — were all 25 and younger.

“They’re young pros with not a lot of international experience, and they’re all playing positions that are difficult to crack into the lineup,” Auriemma said in a press release, before Lavender was the last cut to accommodate Brittney Griner. “Every one of those players that weren’t chosen will be a huge part of USA Basketball going forward. It’s just like so many before them, this is not the right time.”

Though Diggins played for a rival of Auriemma’s Connecticut in college, they embraced following Diggins’ final Notre Dame game, a 2013 NCAA Tournament semifinal defeat to UConn.

“He told me not to let this game define my legacy and said I have done more for the sport than some people who have won four national championships,” Diggins said then, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Diggins’ third WNBA season starts in June.

Australia’s Lauren Jackson thinks about retiring from basketball daily