Q&A: Skylar Diggins-Smith talks year of firsts, Kia Nurse, schedule and coach changes

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury shoots a free throw against the Minnesota Lynx on May 14, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been just under two months since the Phoenix Mercury lost to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals. It was the first time the Sky won the title and also the first appearance in the Finals for Phoenix Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Looking forward, the league just announced the 2022 schedule where teams will play a record 36 regular-season games, up from 32 games the previous season.

Sportsnet spoke to the five-time All-Star about her experience in the Finals, winning her first gold medal at the Olympics, and her team’s search for a new head coach.

(Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Sportsnet: You had a lot of firsts happen for you this year including winning gold at the Olympics and making your first trip to the WNBA Finals. Did playing in the Olympics impact your game during the WNBA Season?

Skylar Diggins-Smith: I think so. I think being in the Olympics taught me a lot. You know, even though I didn’t have a huge role on that team, just being on that stage, winning, being with the caliber of players that I was around and just really getting a taste, it motivated me to want to go to the Championship.

I had so much experience on my team (Mercury) and I just played with a few of the best women like Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. They won everything at every level and so it was good having them to bounce ideas off of and just kind of get their frame of mind and to see how they prepare for things because to know why great players are great.

And it really is like the preparation, just how mentally tough they are to let things roll off their back. It really did help me enjoy the process having experienced it with those two and realizing it’s just basketball, you control what you can and just have fun. I did a good job this year of just staying present in the moment.

Your Mercury Teammate Kia Nurse, who is a Restricted Free Agent going into the upcoming season, how do you feel she fit into your team’s system?

We always had our battles on the court. And so you would rather play with than against Nurse. I mean, she really did fit our team like a glove. She came in, she’s an All-Star, and she just has a lot of toughness.

Her ability to guard, she shoots the three really well . She was just everything that we needed in that position. You could tell how valuable she was to our team when she went down and that really hurt us. We definitely could have used her in the Finals. She has played a really important role for us on both sides of the basketball, so hopefully, we can get her back with us.

We’ll have to see what happens next. That’s above me. That’s the people that get paid, the big bucks. But of course, Lindsay, I want her back on the team to play with her and make another run next year.

The team announced that they parted ways with Head Coach Sandy Brondello, what was your relationship with Sandy, and how does this impact your mindset going into next season?

Sandy brought me out here. I knew her on the international stage but I got to know her as a coach. She took in my family and really welcomed us and introduced us to the Phoenix area. I wanted to come here to play for a woman’s voice. I wanted to play for Sandy. She was a former player and she really is a good coach and she’ll land somewhere.

We’re actually neighbors. We live in the same neighborhood, so I see her every now and then. I’m just looking forward to training for next year and having another opportunity to finish what we started. So that’s all my focus is right now.

What was your reaction when you saw the 2022 WNBA Schedule released and your first-up taking on the Las Vegas Aces?

I was laughing. I just got an email about the WNBA schedule opening weekend, and saw we were first up and was like, Oh, OK, we’re the first up, this is what’s happening! I’m looking forward to another run and I guess we got the first game to open it up, so that should be fun. We’re going to start it right back up.


You have a young son and we are still in the middle of a pandemic, what has it been playing basketball but also trying to keep your family protected through all this?

When we went into the bubble last year, I remember having Clorox wipes as part of our survival pack and that hasn’t changed. I have a toddler so I’m just constantly trying to find ways to eliminate those germs. Everything goes in their mouths, they touch everything, and then now as we travel again still trying to navigate the pandemic, my husband and I were properly vaccinated but my son wasn’t. So I have spent a lot of time just trying to eliminate all the germs that we can. We are just really trying to be as proactive as we can and eliminate some of those issues and really just trying to be responsible citizens.

It really feels like it was the year of Skylar.

It was a lot going on, you know, obviously with the season-ending the way it did and the Olympics and just the whole challenge of trying to get on the Olympic team. It was a lot. It was crazy to be a part of the Olympics which had no fans and just how unique it was to even make that happen. We e were in our own bubbles for months just trying to not get sick, just trying to do everything we can to make it there, and then winning the Gold Medal with my teammates, I fulfilled a life goal.

The way the WNBA season ended was a little anticlimactic, but the run that we were able to make and the camaraderie, you remember the moments, and obviously, we didn’t want it to end and we fell short. Being away from my family and my baby in the Olympics and juggling all these things and so even being an All-Star, it was just crazy. It was a lot going on. There were a lot of highs, a few lows, but definitely the good outweighed the bad. I really think this was a coming-of-age year for me.

The Phoenix Mercury will tip-off their 2022 season on May 6th vs the Las Vegas Aces.

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