Skylar Diggins set to premiere ‘Little Ballers Indiana,’ an AAU documentary on hometown South Bend, Indiana, team
The Dallas Wings star’s three-part documentary explores the hope basketball brings to young women
Skylar Diggins couldn’t be a more fitting name for the Dallas Wings point guard, because she just keeps reaching new heights. From legions of young girls sporting her famed Nike headbands, to her feature in Vogue, to her success averaging double digits for the Dallas Wings and signing a contract extension through 2019, Diggins is on top of her game like never before.
The WNBA star has now teamed up with Crystal McCrary, producer/director of Nickelodeon Sports’ Little Ballers and the NAACP Image Award-nominated BET series Leading Women, to bring us Little Ballers Indiana. Amar’e Stoudemire and Lupe Fiasco also have producer credits on this film.
Little Ballers Indiana is a three-part episode documentary that will premiere March 3 on Nickelodeon. The film gives a look at the Sky Digg Soldiers, Diggins’ AAU team for girls, ages 11-12, and their journey throughout the AAU season. The team is right out of South Bend, Indiana — the same state that brought the game out of legends such as Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. Little Ballers Indiana comments on family, father/daughter bonds, the importance of Title IX, strength as beauty, bullying, images of black women in sports and a WNBA star’s connection to the city that raised her. Most importantly, this film, a little over an hour long, makes a powerful statement about hope through the game of basketball.
Diggins is shattering the stereotypical image of what a WNBA athlete looks like, both on and off the court, because, really, there is no look. And like your average women, she wears many hats. She is an athlete, a businesswoman and a role model. If the game of basketball teaches you anything, it teaches you that being an unselfish player is the key to on-court success. But for Diggins, Dallas isn’t the only team she’s playing for. A hometown hero in Indiana, she reps South Bend hard — especially the young girls.
The Sky Digg Soldiers are coached by the man who coached Diggins when she was growing up — her father, Moe Scott. The film follows six girls and their families. Guard Amiyah Reynolds and forward Mila Reynolds are sisters on the team. Amiyah, the youngest of the two sisters, has a unique story as part of the 1 percent of the world’s population affected by vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of the skin. Also on the team are combo guard Alycia Patterson, point guard Bria Brown, forward Ryin Ott and center “Kash” Biffle.
Family is a major theme of this film as AAU calls for not only a player’s commitment but also their family’s. In South Bend, “Coach Moe” was always a staple in the community. He served as the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Recreational Center, the same place where the Sky Digg Soldiers currently practice.
Diggins joked that she shared her dad growing up because “he’s big on service and the community.” Several years after playing a pivotal role in his daughter’s success, nothing has changed for Coach Moe — service is still at the core of who he is.
Coach Moe played the biggest role in greenlighting the documentary. Before filming, McCrary, the director, sat down with Coach Moe and Roc Nation Sports before gaining access to the families to discuss concerns of the 11- and 12-years-olds being followed around by cameras.
“They trust Moe so much. I think Moe could tell I would take care of their story and tell it with dignity. Having gained the respect of Roc Nation Sports through a vetting process, I met each of the parents before a single camera was turned on. They viewed it as an opportunity for their girls and to be able to share their stories of hope,” McCrary said.
One of those stories was Amiyah’s journey with vitiligo — disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. Marcy Reynolds, Amiyah and Mila’s mom, said Amiyah is the bravest person she knows. A young girl, only 11 years old, shares the story of students who attempted to make fun of her skin discoloration. Her older sister, Mila, expressed her protection of her little sister and how basketball has made the sisters best friends. On the court, Amiyah isn’t her vitiligo, but “that girl with the nice jumper,” her mom said.
McCrary now has a special connection with the girls in the film. An ex-high school track and field athlete while growing up, McCrary recalled wishing her parents pushed her in sports the way these families do. “Parents’ weekends are now centered around their kids. It’s now more the norm for parents to be actively involved in kids’ lives,” McCrary said.
McCrary flew the entire cast and their families to New York for three days, where they participated in a photo shoot for Teen Vogue and went to Broadway plays. But family isn’t just a theme limited to their immediate family members — family is what the girls became on and off the court.
For anyone who has ever played AAU, traveling is one of the most exciting parts of it. For a lot of kids, especially kids from the city, AAU is one of the ways they get to see the country. In between tough practices and even tougher tournaments, the film captures the bond the girls develop just being kids, having fun at amusement parks and away from home. For Diggins, this was one of her greatest basketball memories.
“I used to love traveling to different areas, you never know who’s going to play. You’re just a kid having fun. Those are some of my favorite memories,” Diggins said.
Title IX was an important advancement for women’s rights and women in sports. Title IX made it illegal to exclude a person from participation or be denied benefits on the basis of gender under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid. Navigating growing up for young girls is tough, but it’s particularly tough for young girls who play sports.
By age 14, girls drop out of sports twice as much as boys due to a number of reasons, one of them being a lack of access to facilities and the stigma associated with being athletic. Today’s society would have you falsely believe that being athletic means that you can’t be feminine. Thanks to athletes like Diggins and Serena Williams, being a female athlete is becoming redefined.
Al Ott, Ryin Ott’s dad, recalled growing up believing that his sister shouldn’t play basketball. As luck would have it, Al Ott is now the proud father of two female basketball players, and they aren’t too shabby by any stretch of the imagination. The film captures an important moment in which Al Ott reflects on that thinking. “It’s us adults that make the world backwards,” he said. He, along with all of the other fathers in the film, works tirelessly to ensure their daughters’ success, some of them admitting that their daughters are already even better players than they are.
The film also features commentary from WNBA stars Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Lisa Leslie, Candice Wiggins and Tamika Catchings, among others. All of these women brought very different identities to league and commented on how they dealt with obstacles. Delle Donne dealt with growing up as a 6-foot girl, Catchings had a hearing disability and Griner dealt with her sexuality.
“I got called a lot of things. I was teased for preferring ‘dirt over dolls.’ It was something I dealt with at a really young age. For me, my safe haven was on the floor,” said Diggins. “Nobody could touch me. I was just Sky. Basketball helped me to know who I was.”
Basketball helped shape their confidence in themselves and their futures. The same is true of basketball for the Sky Digg Soldiers. Like anything, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The Sky Digg Soldiers got off to a dominating start during their AAU season, winning Baylor Youth’s Invitational Tournament. Later in the season, they lost the championship-qualifying game in the Jimmy V Classic. If there’s one thing Coach Moe taught them, it’s the same thing he taught a young Skylar: Get better.
Since their playing days with the Sky Digg Soldiers, all of the girls have continued playing basketball and moved on to different teams. Both Kash and Alycia made their high school basketball teams as freshmen. The Reynolds sisters both moved on to play EYBL 13-under and 15-under basketball. Bria plays on a new AAU team, Lady Impact, and Ryin now plays volleyball and basketball alongside her sister for her high school. Despite some changes, the girls remain family. Diggins still keeps tabs on all of the girls and sees them when she’s in town.
Although the girls’ lives went in different directions, they still all make it a point to work out with Coach Moe at the King Center. Because, for them, home really is where the heart is — at the King Center in South Bend.