NORFOLK, Va. -- When it comes to popularity in women’s basketball, Skylar’s got no limit.
Little girls wear her trademark adidas headband. Her Twitter following rivals those of rap stars and movie icons. She gets marriage proposals via social media every time Notre Dame plays on national television.
Such is the magnetism of All-American point guard Skylar Diggins, the charismatic pilot for the top-seeded Fighting Irish, who take a 34-1 record into Tuesday’s Norfolk Regional final against second-seeded Duke at Old Dominion University’s Constant Center.
Sure, she’s talented. She torched Nebraska for 27 points in a rout Sunday and became Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer. No doubt she’s the rock star of the game; a couple of years ago, rapper Lil Wayne tweeted about Diggins being his wife. And no doubt she’s beautiful; her model looks make her a stunning selection as the face of the game.
But to the folks who wore her trademark headband, held up lime-green signs and waited outside the team bus hoping for an autograph on Sunday, those are just minor parts of the Diggins phenomenon.
“She’s very inspirational,” said 12-year-old Makayla Adams. “She has a dream and a goal, and she sets it for everybody on her team, not just herself. She makes everybody on her team feel like a star.”
Adams and her teammates from the Bowie, Md., Bulldogs rode four hours south to see the South Bend home girl up close, but in reality, they got closer than they ever imagined. When Makayla’s mother, Tara, pulled up to their hotel on Saturday, she was stunned to see Diggins’ mother, Renee Scott, standing out front.
“If you wait two minutes, you can meet Skylar,” Scott offered.
Giddily the Adams family obliged, and sure enough, out trotted Diggins, who graciously posed for photos while admiring the decorated van that read, “Get your Diggins out.” Diggins then thanked everyone for coming all that way for the game.
Skylar Diggins has inspired thousands of young women (Photo by Teri Priebe)
“It was freaking awesome,” said Bill Adams, Makayla’s father and coach. “I don’t get star struck. They say you should never meet your heroes, but that’s not the case with Skylar.”
Then there are those headbands, the unlikely visual symbol of fans’ allegiance to the Fighting Irish star. When Diggins first donned one as a sophomore in high school “for no particular rhyme or reason,” she says, it even caught her mother off guard.
“I thought she was going out for karate or something,” Scott said.
Now the headband -- a product touted as “stretchy, comfortable and extremely adjustable” on Amazon.com – has become a symbol of the sport’s premier point guard.
Adams and her teammate Maciyah Washington each wore one. So did Rachel Peasant, who plays club basketball at ODU.
“I just look up to her so much,” she said.
Guys aren’t shy about tightening the wide white band around their foreheads, either. Saxophone player Michael Jackson and several others from the Notre Dame pep band wear multi-colored ones. Clarinet player Tim Czech even scored an original – he caught one Diggins tossed into the crowd after Notre Dame topped UConn in the Big East Tournament final. Czech gave it away – reluctantly – to a high school girl.
“She said she was Skylar’s biggest fan,” he said.
Jackson, like several of Diggins’ 320,000-plus Twitter followers, noted that Diggins will remove the headband in frustration.
“UConn fans call her the pouty princess,” he said. “That’s not her. When she gets upset, it’s only for a minute.”
Czech concurred. “When she takes the head band off,” he said, “she’s is in game mode.”
Yet Diggins’ biggest impact is more than a fashion statement. Even with all the attention focused on her, she is quick to diffuse it. When asked about the effects of the “Skylar phenomenon” on Monday, she joked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” before adding, “People are watching our games, and I think that is great for the university. Sometimes we can get some crazy fans and some negative tweets, but the good always outweighs the bad. It is great that it draws attention to the university and our basketball team.”
Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw digs the Skylar effect, too, noting, “She’s an incredible role model, and I think it’s brought great notoriety, all positive, to the women’s game.”
Scott shakes her head in disbelief.
“It amazes me when we travel all over the country and I see the effect,” Scott said. “It means so much that she has given recognition to a sport that’s so deserving.”
When Bill Adams encourages the players on his 12-and-under team to emulate Diggins, he’s not talking just about crisp passing and smooth outside shooting.
“There’s no better teaching aid,” Adams said. “Put on a tape of Skylar Diggins and you’ll see sportsmanship, hard effort, unselfishness, the no “I” in team. I tell my players to watch her for that and then we can get into what kind of skill set she has.”
Still, Adams admits he doesn’t own a headband personally. “I’m a Nike fan,” he said. “I won’t wear adidas.’’
Adams aside, those without headbands still found a way to show their affinity for Skylar on Sunday. Katie Riley, not even a particularly ardent fan, crafted her own sign.
“He told me what to write,” she said, sitting alongside buddy Victor Jones.
Jones admires Diggins for her impact on the game, something he describes as “very abstract.” Her looks, he laughed, don’t hurt, but he said, “I’m more impressed about her overall contribution to the game. She’s very outspoken and great off the court.”
His sign held by Riley displayed a sentiment that thousands can identify with.
“I’m diggin’ Diggins.”