With her four-time All-WNBA credentials, it’s easy to assume that Skylar Diggins-Smith already has been an Olympian.
But in 2012, she still was a junior at Notre Dame. And in 2016, she didn’t return from major knee surgery until a month after the U.S. team for the Rio Olympics was named.
So at 30, coming off an All-WNBA second team season with the Phoenix Mercury, Diggins-Smith is in the best position of her life to make her childhood dream of being an Olympian come true.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Diggins-Smith said Thursday from USA Basketball National team camp in San Antonio. “I’ve been doing USA Basketball since I was 14. I remember having that dream to be a part of the Olympic team and get a gold medal. It would be very special to me.”
The stiff guard competition includes Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, both four-time Olympians, and a large group of younger players who like Diggins-Smith are hungry to make their Olympic debut such as 2020 All-WNBA first-teamer Arike Ogunbowale.
Diggins-Smith first played for USA Basketball in 2007. She was on gold medal-winning teams at the 2009 U19 World Championships, 2011 World University Games and at the inaugural 3×3 World Championships in 2012 (along with current Mercury teammate Bria Hartley).
She has been on the senior National team since 2013 but for various reasons — including her ACL knee injury and giving birth — has yet to break through to play at the Olympics or in a World Cup.
In February 2020, Diggins-Smith started three games for the National team at an Olympic qualifying tournament and appeared to be well on her way to making the Tokyo Olympics team. Then everything shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic and now the qualifying pressure is on again.
Certainly a season playing with Taurasi, also All-WNBA second team, can only help with their chemistry as it applies to USA Basketball.
Diggins-Smith averaged 17.7 points and 4.2 assists in her first season with the Mercury.
“I’m just trying to make this team,” Diggins-Smith said. “She (Taurasi) has the luxury where she might be able to say this is her fifth Olympics, but for me I’m not counting anything until they put me on that team.
“On the other hand, Dee and I have been working out six days a week for the past few months. We feel great about our chemistry and getting that unique opportunity to work together. Just being able to build our relationship as teammates. It’s definitely going to help us. We didn’t have that luxury that last year (before the WNBA season). That time on the floor together is valuable. You can’t simulate that.”
There is no exact timetable for selecting the 12-player Olympic team. Another National team camp is planned before WNBA camps open then the team likely will be named early in the WNBA season.
The Tokyo Olympics are July 23-Aug. 8, during which the WNBA will be on hiatus.
In addition to Taurasi and Diggins-Smith, other Mercury players who will or could be playing in Tokyo are Brittney Griner, Hartley (France), Kia Nurse (Canada) and Alanna Smith (Australia). Mercury coach Sandy Brondello also is Australian Olympic coach.
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