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23 Apr 2013

Griner, Diggins, Delle Donne reflect on AAU days

Griner, Diggins, Delle Donne reflect on AAU days

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 The W.N.B.A. is counting on its top three rookies — Brittney Griner (Phoenix), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago) and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa) — to raise the league’s profile as it embarks on its 17th season next month. The three women remember playing one another in Amateur Athletic Union competition, and they most recently led their college teams to the N.C.A.A. tournament, Griner with Baylor, Delle Donne with Delaware and Diggins with Notre Dame. These are excerpts from their conversation last Wednesday with reporters and editors at The New York Times.

 Q. What was your experience playing A.A.U. basketball?
BRITTNEY GRINER I loved it. It was great competition. You get a lot of exposure. Obviously, there’s always good and bad teams. You see the best in the country. You get to elevate your game. So I loved my A.A.U. experience.

SKYLAR DIGGINS If it wasn’t for A.A.U., I probably wouldn’t have gotten as many scholarship offers as I did. I was lucky enough to be on a good team with a good coach who went to tournaments that coaches were at, and that was so important.

ELENA DELLE DONNE A.A.U. was definitely the best competition, without a doubt. I met some awesome teammates that I’m still friends with today.

Q. You blazed a trail for yourselves by not ultimately choosing the powerhouse programs. Do you appreciate what you’ve done?
GRINER I loved my choice. Going to Baylor definitely helped me out a lot. I grew a lot there as well. When I went on my visit, I fell in love with the whole family sense that I got. The coaching staff, everybody cared about players and wanted us to grow on the court and off the court. Also, I didn’t want to go to a huge campus. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates and peers away from basketball.

 DIGGINS I didn’t want to go to some huge school. My family was so important to me as far as them being a part of my college experience. I wanted them to play a big part. My mom — you started seeing her at all my games. I stayed home, and I kind of grew up with a bias toward Notre Dame because it’s so close. As soon as I got the chance, I took it. That’s the best decision I ever made in my life.

DELLE DONNE It’s really rewarding to do it your own way, and you’re able to do things that no one thought you could ever do. At Delaware, we ended up getting a national ranking; we had never been nationally ranked before. We had a huge fan base supporting us by the end. So it’s really cool to do something out of the ordinary. Obviously, I wanted to be close to my family, and they were able to experience it with me. My dad didn’t miss a college game, home or away.

 Q. Is playing overseas something you look forward to? Is there any place you prefer or a team you would like to play for?
GRINER I would love to play overseas.

DIGGINS It depends on how my body feels. You want to go to a safe city, nowhere near war or women trafficking. You want the money — that’s a big reason why a lot of women go. And you want to go to a pretty good team. If I could put all those things together in one place, it would be Italy, ideally.

Q. Where do the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro figure into your thinking and plans?
DELLE DONNE It’s a huge goal for me. I definitely want to play in the Olympics. That would be incredible.

GRINER Last year, I got a chance to try out and got an offer, but being in school, I wanted to just focus and finish out strong. It’s a big deal to me to be in Brazil.

DIGGINS I would love to go to the Olympics. I actually had an opportunity to play three-on-three this summer in Athens. And they have really been talking about putting it into the 2016 Olympics. I think we’d be a heck of a three-on-three team.

 Q. Do you have players whose games you really admire in the W.N.B.A. or the N.B.A.?
DELLE DONNE I’ve always admired Diana Taurasi’s game. I watched her through college and in the pros. In the N.B.A. I like to watch Kevin Durant a lot. We kind of have a similar build, being skinny and tall but still playing the guard spot a little bit.

GRINER I always looked up to Sylvia (Fowles) and Simone (Augustus). I remember watching them at L.S.U. In the N.B.A., LeBron James fan.

DIGGINS I love Tamika Catchings. I just love how hard she works. I’m from Indiana, so with her playing with the Fever I got to see a lot of her game. She is just somebody who just represented herself so well on the court and off the court. On the guys’ side, I’m a Kobe fan. But I love to watch Steve Nash. He’s so crafty, and I just love his point guard skills.

 Q. How did you react to the behavior that got Mike Rice fired as the Rutgers men’s coach?
DELLE DONNE If that happened in women’s basketball, a girl would have taken the ball and thrown it back. I know my teammates would not have taken that. We wouldn’t be getting pegged with the ball. I thought that was terrible.

DIGGINS You often don’t see a lot of the behind-the-scenes in practice. A lot of coaches are intense. It’s a lot of strong language. And coaches blow up, and they have moments. Any program could string together video. Obviously, not our coaches throwing the ball at us or physically pushing us, but as far as intensity and yelling, and the intensity of the language, it happens everywhere.

Q. Do you think that’s effective or counterproductive?
DIGGINS Depends on the player. Some players are: “Hug me. Talk to me.” Others players are like, “Yell at me.”

GRINER It just depends on how it was done. You can’t just cuss out a player. It’s not acceptable at all.

Q. When you look back at this season, what will you remember?
DELLE DONNE Making the Sweet 16 was huge for us. That was a little bit like a championship for our team. I’m thrilled with how we finished.

 DIGGINS The Big East championship was amazing. That was one of our goals. Notre Dame had never won one a Big East championship.

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