In 2018, Skylar Diggins-Smith was an All Star, was all-WNBA second team, led the league in minutes per game, ranked in the top-10 for points and assists per game, and … she was pregnant the whole time.
Skylar, who often goes by “Sky,” tweeted the news in October 2019 while also posting, “People called me a quitter, said I gave up on my team, etc., etc. Not knowing I took two full months away from everything because of postpartum depression. With limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically.”
She sat out the 2019 season with the Dallas Wings because of her pregnancy and her son’s birth before her move to the Phoenix Mercury. Since her son’s arrival, the four-time All-Star’s overall perspective has changed.
“Motherhood definitely changed me. It made me be less selfish. It motivated me to really want to leave a legacy,” Skylar told Girls Talk Sports TV. “It inspired me to go after, even more so, generational wealth for my son and try to build his financial independence. It really just raised my awareness on what’s going on in the world and lessons that we were taught and just how he has to view the world. It kind of woke me up and made me stand up a little bit.”
Skylar has had a rollercoaster of a career. Now in Phoenix, she has a new lease on life and an outlook on the game that’s translating to quick success with the Mercury.
“Now being here in Phoenix has rejuvenated me, has rejuvenated my passion for the game and made me feel like I’m pretty sure I’ve got as many years ahead of me as I have behind me if I want,” she said during 2021 media day.
“I’m blessed to be here now.”
Since her arrival in Phoenix, Skylar has become a mainstay on Phoenix Suns’ NBA broadcasts. It’s something she and other current players, such as Candace Parker on NBA on TNT and Kia Nurse for Toronto Raptors games, are starting to do more.
The visibility of WNBA players is stretching beyond the league and that isn’t taken lightly by Skylar.
She has also stressed the importance of the job, in how it relates to her own playing.
“I’m studying the game. I’m watching the game to break it down, not just as a fan watching entertainment,” Skylar said. “I’m watching players for one quarter at a time, just one player and what he does, how he impacts the game. I’m looking at stats differently. I’m watching Chris Paul execute his reads off the ball screen for 15 minutes clips. I’m very passionate about the game of basketball.”
Her passion for the game has carried her through the ups and downs in her career. From injuries to postpartum depression to cross-country moves, Skylar has kept herself atop the WNBA. And she’s not done yet.
“I’ve overcome so much and I’m just Sky. I’m just me,” she said. “I’m happy who I am today and I still feel like I’ve got unfinished business in this league.”
Check out signed Skylar Diggins-Smith souvenirs.
Skylar, a South Bend native, played high school basketball for Washington High School in South Bend. She won a state title and in 2009 was named the Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year.
When the time came to decide where she would play college ball, Skylar had a tough decision. Between her hometown school Notre Dame and Stanford, Skylar chose to stay local and play for Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever have another player like her,” Muffet McGraw told Notre Dame Magazine.
While at Notre Dame, Skylar became an early social media women’s basketball icon. Now, social media and sports go hand in hand (there’s a good chance you got to this story because of social media). Athletes are prominent figures on social media, and Skylar was one of them.
“I don’t know if they follow me because they think I am good at basketball or they like Notre Dame or I don’t fit what they think a woman basketball player is supposed to look like,” she said to Notre Dame Magazine.
But there is a downside to the social media fame, which was already around when Skylar was a college player.
“The hardest lesson I had to learn is that not everybody wanted to see me do well,” she said in Notre Dame Magazine.
On the court at Notre Dame, Skylar eased her way into a regular starting spot, starting 30 of the team’s 35 games her freshman year while appearing in all of them. She shot 43.9 percent while leading the team in scoring (13.8 points per game), steals (2.6), and assists (3.2). Notre Dame’s season came to an end in the Sweet 16.
As a sophomore, Skylar started 38 of 39 games, giving up her spot in the lineup to a walk-on senior. She scored 15 points per game and led the team in assists with 4.9 per game. Skylar was a key player in the team’s run in the NCAA Tournament, providing a 28-point performance on 10-of-14 shooting in the Final Four against No. 1 UConn. She scored 23 points and made four steals in the national championship, but Notre Dame lost to Texas A&M.
Skylar had another impressive season in her junior year. Starting 39 games, she averaged 16.8 points per game, 5.7 assists, and 2.6 steals, surpassing 600 points, 200 assists and 100 steals in the season. Once again, Skylar helped lead the Fighting Irish to the national championship game, beating UConn once again in the national semifinal. And once more, Notre Dame fell short to No. 1 Baylor, but Skylar posted a team-high 20 points in the championship game.
In her last hoorah as a senior for Notre Dame, the hometown star started all 37 games and averaged 17.1 points, 6.1 assist, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.1 steals per game with a trio of double-doubles and a triple-double. Her collegiate career finished in the Final Four, as Notre Dame lost to UConn, but Skylar didn’t go down without putting up a fight. She recorded 10 points and eight assists with four steals and three blocks.
She left Notre Dame as the only player to win the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s top point guard — she won it twice, once in her junior year and once in her senior year. In her senior season, the three-time All-American also won the Dawn Staley Award. At the time, Skylar was one of just six NCAA D-1 players since the 1999-2000 season to have 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, and 300 steals in a college career.
With the third overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, Skylar was selected by the Tulsa Shock. It was a big moment for Skylar, and with her prominent social media presence, there was an added level of attention to her draft selection.
“I don’t think they’ll really appreciate it until I retire or fade to black but I definitely know what I brought to the table as far as the culture, social media,” Skylar told Girls Talk Sports TV of her social media influence. “That whole social media craze or whatever you want to call it, that was starting right when I was in college. I was one of the first athletes to kind of benefit from that.”
In her rookie season, Skylar appeared in 32 games, starting 21 of them. Averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 assists, she made the All-Rookie team while leading the team with assists. Tulsa finished last place in the Western Conference with 11 wins and 23 losses, missing out on the postseason.
As a star player out of college, it’s difficult to make the leap to the professional arena for many reasons. Age and experience aside, going to a struggling franchise always means an adjustment period is required. And at Tulsa, that adjustment period took some time.
“My rookie season was underwhelming to say the least. Very character building, getting drafted to Tulsa, obviously we didn’t really have resources or a lot of things that I just remember the people being awesome to me ‘we love you, we got you’ even when I was struggling.” reflected Skylar on media day in 2021.
Despite the difficult first season, Skylar was already changing the game, becoming the first female athlete represented by Roc Nation Sports, the sports management company founded by JAY-Z.
Skylar’s second WNBA season was more of the same, except she became a bigger player on the team, getting the start in all 34 of the team’s games. Shooting 42.3 percent, Skylar averaged 20.1 points, 5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. She joined elite company with Diana Taurasi and Cynthia Cooper as the only players to average at least 20 points and five assists in a season.
She was named an All-Star for the first time, scoring 27 points in the game, which was the second-most points scored in an All-Star game in league history at the time. At the end of the year, she was named to the All-WNBA First Team and earned the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Skylar gives a lot of credit to her new coach, Fred Williams, who took over the Shock in the 2014 season.
“Making all-WNBA, making that jump, being second in the league in scoring and how him and Bridget Pettis really just empowered me in this league. ‘You belong here. You can be a star in this league and do great things,’” Skylar said during media day 2021. “So that really empowered me my second year through Tulsa.”
It was more of the same though for the Shock as a whole, finishing fifth out of six in the Western Conference with a 12-22 record to miss out on the playoffs yet again.
It seemed there was a turning point to start the season for the Shock during Skylar’s third showing. An 8-1 record out of the gates had the Shock and Skylar soaring high. But her season was cut short, as she suffered an ACL injury against the Seattle Storm. Despite the injury, she earned the most votes in the Western Conference and made the All-Star team, which she was unable to play in.
“Then obviously getting hurt,” Skylar said, reflecting back during the 2021 media day. “I feel like I got hurt right at the peak of when I was really coming on strong in the league in Tulsa and I felt like we might not lose another game for a little minute and then getting hurt and everything and going through that.”
In her nine-game season, Skylar averaged 17.8 points, 5 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals while scoring her 1,000th career point, earning the Player of the Month award for June.
For the 2016 season, the Tulsa Shock would be no more. A move to Dallas and a rebrand to the Wings saw a new city and a new opportunity for Skylar.
“Having a fresh start in Dallas, just those fans in Arlington, in South Dallas just being a part of that community and winning the community assist award just the way I kind of dove in wanting to be all about Dallas,” Skylar said on 2021 media day.
She recovered from her ACL injury and played in the final 27 games of the regular season in her return, ranking second on the team in points and assists with 13.1 and 3.4 per game, respectively.
The Wings missed out on the playoffs with an 11-23 record. Skylar’s postseason debut would have to wait.
In her second season in Dallas, Skylar balled out. Averaging 18.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game helped lift the Wings to the 7-seed for the playoffs and earn Skylar a spot in the WNBA All-Star game and the All-WNBA First Team.
Her offensive efficiency was incomparable. Skylar was the only player in the WNBA to rank in the top 10 for scoring (seventh) and assists (fourth) per game. She also reached milestones in points (2,000) and assists (500).
The Wings’ season came to an end in the first round of the playoffs in an 86-76 loss to the Washington Mystics.
The 2018 season was a special one for Skylar. Once again, she was named an All-Star with her 17.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.2 assist (career-best), and 1.4 steals per game. She made the All-WNBA Second Team and became the third player in WNBA history with at least 17 points and six assists per game, joining the elite company of Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.
Her league-leading 34.1 minutes per game was the third time she did so. Except this time she did so while pregnant.
The Wings made the playoffs as the 8-seed with a 15-19 record but they were knocked out in the first round again, this time by the Phoenix Mercury.
Skylar skipped the 2019 season after giving birth to her son in April of 2019.
The 2020 season was a season like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed and moved the season into the Florida bubble. It was a year of change for the league, and for Skylar.
In January, Skylar announced she was done with Dallas, signing a deal with the Mercury in February.
Following her 704-day absence from a competitive WNBA game, Skylar returned on July 25, 2020 with a 14-point, 6-assist performance for the Mercury.
“I haven’t really stopped playing basketball except for a little bit during the quarantine,” Skylar said to ESPN. “But, yeah, it’s basketball. You know, it’s still round, and it’s still played the same way. “I’m just happy to be here. I don’t really have much to say. I’m kind of conflicted being here. But I’m happy to be on this team, I’ll say that.”
The 2020 season was marked by the “More Than a Vote” campaign and the “Say Her Name” campaign that the league was at the forefront of following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police. The shooting of Jacob Blake united the league again and led to the postponements of games.
“I don’t know what to say. I mean, it’s non-whites being killed by policemen disproportionately,” she said to ESPN. “As a mother, as a Black woman, as a human being, it doesn’t sit right with me. It’s unsettling. I have a husband that is Black, I have a son that we’re raising that’s Black. So, obviously, everything that’s going on, the climate, I feel some sort of way about it.”
On the court, Skylar and her new team went 13-9 in the 22-game season to finish fifth place. In a close first-round game, the Mercury beat the Mystics 85-84. Skylar scored a pair of clutch three-pointers in the come-from-behind win, hitting one to make it 73-66 and then to take the lead at 75-72. She had 24 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
In the second round, the roles were reversed as the Mercury bowed out 80-79 in a loss to the Minnesota Lynx. Skylar scored the final points of the game to cut the deficit to one point, but her 3-of-15 shooting performance was sub-par and the Mercury exited.
Overall, Skylar’s 2020 season was quite successful. With 17.7 points, 3.3 boards, and 4.2 assists per game over the 22 regular season games, she earned a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team. She passed the 3,000 career points mark as well while scoring in double-digit figures in 20 of the 22 games in the regular season.
Today, Skylar is off to a strong start in 2021. Finally getting to play in front of fans, the she’s thriving: over the first 13 games, Skylar is averaging 19.2 points, 4.2 boards, and 5.5 assists per game. She reached another milestone, scoring her 1,000th career bucket.
“I’m DAMN PROUD of all the work I’ve put in and sacrifices I’ve made to be where I am today,” Skylar posted on Twitter. Thankful for my inner circle and all the fans who’ve followed me along this journey! I made the little girl from South Bend, with big dreams, proud!”
The Mercury is 6-7 as it continues to try to find its groove with a deep roster of stars. However, an early season Diana Taurasi chest injury has sidelined the three-time WNBA champion for at least four weeks, leading Skylar to step up even more.
“I think she’s doing a really, really great job and has taken a little bit more ownership,” Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said in a press call. “Obviously, when Diana went out, there’s more responsibility on her hands. She’s facing a lot of aggressive defenses, and I think she’s getting used to that and how we can best play against that. But she’s made some incredible shots…I think her leadership has gotten better. She’s a great player on both ends of the floor — defensively, we put her on their best player and she really, really embraces that. Without Diana, we have less handlers, so the pressure’s on her a little bit more, but she’s handled it great.”
Handling it great is what we’ve grown accustom to expecting from Skylar, who – talking about how she handles it – during media day said, “Sharing the ball with teammates: I think if you play the game the right way, you share it, you don’t really care about who gets the credit and the great thing is we have unselfish stars here. We have five potential All Stars in the lineup. Everyone brings something different to the table.”
“There’s room for everybody to eat. You don’t care who gets the credit. You go by who has the hot hand, who’s getting doubled that game. It’s deeper than just that. We all know how to play the game. We all are who we are.”
“It’s easy playing with great players. In my mind, sometimes you just gotta stay out of each other’s way. We’ve had a lot of time to get there in the offseason.”
In her eighth season in the WNBA, Skylar has been a consistent force on the offense. Her per game stats prove just that with high-achieving numbers in points, rebounds, and assists.
A look at Skylar’s season and career totals:
There’s no knowing what Skylar’s going to do when the ball’s in her hands, and that’s a good thing if you’re on her team.
“Every time Sky got the ball in her hand, or she’s driving down the middle or just going to the rack, I just know something good’s going to happen,” Phoenix teammate Brittney Griner said. “Either she’s going to get the floater, the and-one or she’s going to lob it to Breezy for the alley-oop every time.”
Skylar’s jump shot is deadly. From three-point land, she’s a career 32 percent shooter. She’s hit clutch shots from beyond the arc in her career but with the stacked team in Phoenix, Skylar can be more selective with her shot than she was earlier in her career.
You know when Skylar is on the court. She battles for the ball, won’t take nonsense from opponents and she’ll do whatever she can to get the upper hand. It doesn’t matter who’s in the paint, Skylar’s coming.
“I like to get in the lane, make plays and I feel like I’m a physical guard, but I can’t share all my secrets,” she told Queen Ballers Club in an email.
Skylar finds ways to thread the needle that not many players in the league can. She finds players streaking to the hoop, part of her elite arsenal of offensive capabilities.
Skylar’s an elite guard on the stat sheet as an offensive player. Over her seven seasons in the WNBA, she has yet to turn the page in becoming an elite defender, and she knows it.
“I really want to continue building off the momentum we had last year by just doing my part and bringing consistent playmaking to the team,” she told Queen Ballers Club. “One thing I want to do is step it up on defense this year and just try to bring that element to the table.”
Skylar feels positive about the 2021 season and beyond, including for the entire WNBA.
“I think we have great momentum from last year. It’s rejuvenating almost. I’m super excited, obviously to be a part of it, but to be a part of it with these women, with this group,” she told SLAM Magazine.
“I’m proud to say everything that we’ve been able to accomplish on and off the floor, all those efforts. I think it’s a culmination and using that momentum into the 25th season. I think it’s going to be really exciting.
In year 25 of the WNBA, there’s a lot to accomplish.
“I was that girl in ’97. I was 7 years old when the League started so that was my first time not only seeing women play on TV, but women that look like me playing and being on a stage like that. I was that little girl, so to see it come full circle and to see how younger girls respond to us and how they’re taking to our game and want to be like us. Having that in mind, that full circle moment.”
The Mercury has a legitimate shot of making a title run. With a deep roster full of All-Star talent, 2021 could be Phoenix’s year. Skylar says she’s in Phoenix with her eyes set on the ultimate prize.
“To have an opportunity to compete for a championship,” Skylar told Queen Ballers Club. “We put a lot of work in during the offseason, I think we have all the pieces and now it’s time to put it all together.”
Before then, she has a chance to become a champion for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I definitely still want to go after being an Olympian, that’s still in my mind, being a champion,” she told Girls Talk Sports TV. “Ever since I got drafted, it might sound corny, I feel like I’m a champion.”
Up next, learn more about Skylar’s Mercury teammate, Kia Nurse.
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