Olympics 2021 – Former Notre Dame stars Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd help fuel Team USA’s backcourt

9:15 p.m. ET

  • Kelly CohenESPN

When Muffet McGraw first saw Skylar Diggins-Smith play, she knew the point guard would be the first high school freshman she’d ever offer a scholarship to.

“This kid is going to be special,” McGraw, who … Our ladyWomen’s college basketball coach at the time, remembered the thinking. “And a lot of that was her presence. We met on campus just before her freshman year and talked about things that seemed so mature to me. And then on the court, I think I got my match in terms of the most competitive person , I ever had.”

McGraw was right.

Diggins-Smith became one of the most decorated players in the history of Fighting Irish basketball. As the team’s point guard from 2009 to 2013, she established Notre Dame as a national contender and led the Irish to their first Final Four in 10 years. Diggins-Smith was a three-time All-American who took Notre Dame to two consecutive trips to the national championship game. Their never-ending self-confidence and their grip play not only drove the Irish to stand from head to toe with eternal strength UConn, the rivalry became the best in womens college basketball and helped turn the Big East into the sport’s best conference.

“She changed [the] Program, “said McGraw, who retired from Notre Dame coaching after 32 seasons in 2020.” It has changed our culture. “

And more guards changing the program followed. Jewell Loyd arrived in 2012. Arike Ogunbowale appeared in 2015. Jackie Young in 2016. Suddenly, a program that won its only NCAA title behind All-American center Ruth Riley became famous for its dynamic backcourt talent. And in 2018, Ogunbowale and Young helped lead Notre Dame to its second national championship.

Riley, who played basketball for the USA gold medalists at the 2004 Athens Games, was the only Notre Dame Olympian in the women’s basket for a long time. But this month im Games in Tokyo, USA basketball has a strong influence from Notre Dame. Diggins-Smith and Loyd make their Olympic debuts as the women’s 5v5 team go for their seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal. Young has already won gold in Tokyo and helped the US team win the first 3×3 women’s tournament.

“I am so proud to have so many Olympic Guardsmen participating in this program,” said current Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey. “It makes me so happy.”

Jewell Loyd started Team USA in the Olympic opening game against Nigeria but has returned from a hip injury since Diana Taurasi. Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images

Veterans are suing BIRD AND DIANA TAURASI remain the starting guardians of Team USA and want to be the first female basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. But Loyd, 27, Young, 23, and Diggins-Smith – who turned 31 on Monday – could be the future of the US women’s backcourt.

Loyd kicked off the Olympics opener, an 81-72 win over Nigeria, when Taurasi recovered from a hip injury. She has since come off the bench and has scored 22 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in three games for the US women still have to look in sync in Tokyo, but will face Australia in the quarter-finals on Wednesday (12:40 PM ET).

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McGraw said Loyd, who like Diggins-Smith helped lead Notre Dame to two consecutive NCAA title game appearances, was “sheer talent” as a high school student.

“She was the most talented player we ever got [at Notre Dame]”said McGraw.” She just wanted to step in and be really good. “

Loyd left South Bend as the fifth highest scorer in program history and was No. 1 overall in the 2015 WNBA Draft. She has won two WNBA titles with the Seattle storm, and has worked hard to become a threat on both ends of the floor.

“Your development on the defensive has been remarkable,” said former Storm head coach Dan Hughes, who is the assistant coach of Dawn Staley’s Team USA in Tokyo. “And she has become a very effective player with and without the ball on the offensive.”

Loyd, who averages 17.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 4.2 APG this season in the WNBA while beating the top 44.4% of career off the field, admitted college success isn’t necessarily Leads to success in the WNBA, despite being said at Notre. playing checkers helped with the transition.

“It’s definitely been a different journey for many of us,” Loyd said during Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas last month. “For me it comes full circle, all of my hard work from what I was able to do in college trying to figure out who I am in the league, all of which led to my becoming an Olympian.”

Stay up to date on the Japan Summer Games on ESPN: Continue reading “

Medal tracker | Results | Time schedule

While Loyd and Diggins-Smith were inducted into the U.S. 5v5 Olympiad in June, Las Vegas aces‘Young didn’t expect to be in Tokyo. The # 1 of the 2019 draft pick took a vacation to Florida – the WNBA suspended their season for the Olympic break – when she was named substitute for 3×3 teammate Katie Lou Samuelson.

“I believe [Jackie] was on the beach somewhere 10 days ago and now she has a gold medal, “said US 3×3 trainer Kara Lawson.” She really prevailed for us. This competition alone is a real challenge. But really not having any training with a player and then coming in and winning the tournament … that’s not normal. I think it speaks for the players’ toughness, their intelligence, their team spirit and their flexibility. Because this tournament demands so much from you. “

Diggins-Smith – a five-time WNBA All-Star who averaged 19.1 PPG for the this season Phoenix Mercury – Has seen modest minutes so far in the Tokyo Games, but Staley credits all U.S. reserves for the role they play in training and games.

“I said the following to our team: Our second unit, it may not play as many minutes as the first unit, but the preparation that they provide for us” [helps]”said Staley, who acted as point guard on three US basketball gold medalists.” With Nigeria and Japan, the pressure we were under, they simulated it incredibly. They made us better because of their preparation on the ground. “

Diggins-Smith is in her eighth WNBA season (she missed 2019 after giving birth to her son) and plays some of the best basketball players of her career. She is one of the most combative guards in the WNBA. She is able to effortlessly find an open teammate or attack the basket herself. She is also disruptive defensively and catches opponents when they have the ball.

How has your game changed since college?

“The best teacher is simply experience,” said Diggins-Smith.

Jackie Young has started all 21 games for Las Vegas this season, averaging 12.6 PPG on best career. She teamed up with Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray and Kelsey Plum for the 3×3 gold medal. Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images

WHICH NOTRE DAME PLAYER COULD HAVE NEXT in the US Olympic team? Ogunbowale scored 26 points and became an MVP. appointed of the WNBA All-Star Game last month when Team WNBA upset Team USA 93-85. She has participated in various international events and helped USA basketball win the gold medal at the FIBA ​​AmeriCup 2019.

Ogunbowale, 24, led the WNBA last season with 22.8 PPG and finished eighth this summer with 18.9 PPG. And the Dallas Wings star established itself a long time ago as one of the most successful clutch shooters in women’s basketball.

Shortly after breaking Diggins-Smith’s all-time all-time scorer at Notre Dame, Ogunbowale made two of the The greatest shots in the history of the Women’s Final Four during the national championship run of the Irish 2018. First she hit the game-winning shot in the semifinals against UConn in extra time. Then against Mississippi State in the championship game, her last-second 3-pointer cemented the biggest comeback in championship game history.

And that, said Ivey, is the Skylar factor – and it rubbed off on the program.

“She’s changed the mindset, that level of competitiveness – a level of swag that you inherit when you come here,” said Ivey. “It’s a Notre Dame tradition.”

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