When Skylar Diggins arrived in South Bend for her official recruiting visit on Halloween weekend in 2008, she was handed a 21-page printout three weeks in the making that detailed how her future would unfold if she committed to Notre Dame. The color-saturated pages carried a title—SKYLAR DIGGINS: FOUR YEARS UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME—that might have been lifted from a theater marquee. In more than two decades with the Irish, coach Muffet McGraw had never collaborated on such a document. But then she had never pursued a player like Diggins, whom she deemed the most important recruit in the history of the program.
The Timeline, which is how everyone refers to the printout now, foretold Diggins's academic and basketball accomplishments, such as when she would receive the Nancy Lieberman Award, recognizing her as the nation's top point guard (March 29, 2012). It also specified the speeches she would make and the community service she would perform, important matters to a high school star who grew up seven miles southwest of Touchdown Jesus. The predictions even included a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED profile of her on Sept. 12, 2011: The Sky Is Unlimited. The final entry, dated May 23, 2013, had Diggins entering training camp after being selected by the WNBA's Indiana Fever.
Although the SI profile comes two months late (and the headline doesn't quite match), many of the projections, like her status as a 2011--12 preseason All-America and winning a gold medal at the World University Games, have come true. "It's pretty eerie," says Diggins's mother, Renee Scott. "I should ask them to make out a life plan for me."
Written by assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis, the Timeline did not predict a title for the Irish in 2011--12, because forward Devereaux Peters and guard Brittany Mallory were not expected to be in South Bend. But both have been granted a fifth season of eligibility after missing a season due to knee injuries, giving Diggins a chance to rewrite her own history. "It would be a huge disappointment if we don't win a national championship this year," she says.
Diggins was 10 when Notre Dame won its only women's basketball championship. She attended the 2001 victory parade, cheering for All-America center Ruth Riley and sure-handed point guard Niele Ivey, now an assistant to McGraw and a mentor to Diggins. This year's Irish enter the season No. 2, their highest ranking since the final poll of the 2000--01 season. They have six of their top seven scorers back, including Diggins, a 5'9" junior and the Big East preseason player of the year; Natalie Novosel, a senior guard and last season's leading scorer; and Peters, the 2011 Big East defensive player of the year. The squad is also bent on redemption: In last year's title game in Indianapolis, Notre Dame blew a 48--41 lead to Texas A&M early in the second half. The final score—TEXAS A&M 76, NOTRE DAME 70—is written on the main whiteboard in Notre Dame's locker room.
For Diggins, the pain of losing to the Aggies is only now receding. Upon returning to her hotel room after the game, she sobbed uncontrollably, tears falling on the bathroom floor where she sat with her two best friends, Emily Phillips, Diggins's teammate at South Bend's Washington High and now a junior guard at IUPUI, and Candice Wiggins, the Minnesota Lynx guard and former Stanford star. After her mother insisted that Skylar leave her room ("I was just going to sit and sulk the night away," says Diggins), she joined a group of family and friends for a late-night dinner at a Steak 'n Shake near Conseco Fieldhouse—only to watch the entire A&M team and a boisterous group of Aggies supporters enter the restaurant just as she began eating.
Of course, Notre Dame would not have reached the title game without Diggins. She averaged 19.3 points during the NCAA tournament (up from 14.2 during the regular season) and scored 28 points—outperforming player of the year Maya Moore—in a semifinal upset of Connecticut. Against the Huskies, "Skylar put the ball on her hip and said, I am getting us to the national championship," says Ivey. "Watching her will shots in, her creative energy and the way she led us, I sat back and said, Wow. She's arrived."
"I've never thought I had best athletic ability on the court; I just think I'm the most crafty," says Diggins. "I try to make players around me better. I just believe any team I'm on should win."
She gets that wellspring of confidence and determination from her mom, a data technician for the student management office of Washington High. Talk to any of Diggins's close friends, and they need few words to size up the 5'1" Scott's formidable personality. As Phillips puts it, "Miss Renee don't play."
Miss Renee's rules were not negotiable. Among them: an 11 p.m. curfew for Skylar during her senior year of high school, a signed contract prohibiting anyone else from driving Skylar's car and a permanent ban on using the word can't. As for dating, potential suitors had to meet Renee and Moe Scott, Skylar's stepfather. Renee would write down the license-plate number, make and model of the young man's car, and demand a cellphone number. Explains Renee, "I would say very calmly, 'This is my daughter, and I know where to find you.'"