Notre Dame's Diggins nets honor, then hits the court
Sweating out shooting drills, push-ups and sprints on the Purcell Pavilion court.
Glory and glitz took a backseat for Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, who attended Big East media day, and then caught a flight back to South Bend with Irish coach Muffet McGraw. Diggins and the rest of the Irish were sticking to the grind as they prepare for their season opener on Nov. 9 against Ohio State on the deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.
Diggins led Notre Dame to its first Big East regular-season title last season, averaging 16.8 points a game. She was only the fourth player in the last decade to score more than 600 points and have at least 200 assists and 100 steals in a single season. The 5-foot-9 guard from South Bend helped lead the Irish to the national championship game the past two seasons.
"It's going to keep me on my toes," Diggins said of the Big East honor. "I'm never one for individual accolades. Individually, I want to keep getting better and be the best player for my team. I don't sit and say, 'Oh, I wish I was the Big East Player of the Year at the end of the year.' I guess I'm supposed to get it because I won it last year.
"If we were successful and I didn't win it, I wouldn't mind that at all. I'd rather win a national championship or the Big East championship than be the Big East Player of the Year."
Diggins was the only Notre Dame player on the Big East preseason teams.
Irish guard Kayla McBride and Irish forward Natalie Achonwa didn't even make honorable mention. McBride averaged 11.6 points and 4.6 rebounds last season, and Achonwa, who played on Canada's Olympic team, averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds.
"It's interesting that we were picked second in the conference, but we only have one good player," McGraw said. "I think that Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride are going to do some big things.
"I was surprised that Kayla McBride didn't make the first team. I think that she is definitely a first-team Big East player, and I think she will prove that as the year goes on. It's good motivation ... and coaches do remind players of things like this. Kayla is incredibly mentally tough. She will handle this the right way. She just keeps on going. Nothing will deter her."
The power of prayer
McGraw spotted Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins CSC walking through Purcell Pavilion on his way to an event at Club Naimoli and quickly stopped practice. McGraw had Jenkins briefly speak, and then he blessed the Irish team.
Immediately after the blessing, three Irish players swished 3-pointers in a drill.
"It was miraculous," McGraw said. "It was great. Father Jenkins usually comes by to give us a preseason blessing. We didn't know he was coming. It worked out great. We can use all the prayers we can get right now. I had a panic attack earlier just thinking about how soon the season is going to start."
Hoops Shamrock series?
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma had an interesting response for Rich Elliott of the Connecticut Post when he was asked if the Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry would continue once the Irish move to the ACC.
"I can see us playing them twice at Giants Stadium and once at their place," Auriemma told Elliott. "I think that would be a big game. Just like the outside hockey festival (on New Years Day). I say we play outside at Giants Stadium. Once at Giants Stadium, once at Gillette Stadium and once in South Bend. What's wrong with that? And once at Soldier Field. Because those will be huge games."
Auriemma made it seem that the rivalry, which has commanded a national stage, may not continue.
"Like we always do, we're trying to balance (the schedule) out so that we play enough teams from every conference," Auriemma was quoted in the Post as saying. "And we've got Maryland. We've got Duke. So how many teams are you going to play from each conference? That's always a big question in our scheduling. So we'll have to take a look at it and see where it all fits in."
Notre Dame and Connecticut played each other four times in the past two seasons each, and three times in the previous season. The Irish have beaten Connecticut four of the last five meetings. Notre Dame advanced to the national championship game each of the past two seasons by defeating Connecticut in a national semifinal game.
McGraw doesn't mind a game on the deck of an aircraft carrier in November in South Carolina, but Giants Stadium in January doesn't suit her.
"I don't want to play outside in the middle of winter, but I really hope that we can continue to play the series, probably just once a year," McGraw said. "Initially, it's probably going to be difficult to schedule it, but it's the best rivalry in the country. I hate to stop it."
And as for the references to NFL venues?
"I don't know why he's trying to bring football into it," McGraw said.