February 27, 2024 

How Bridget Pettis helped Skylar Diggins-Smith return to the court

Diggins-Smith: 'I didn't feel like I wanted to keep playing'

SEATTLE — The tears coming down Skylar Diggins-Smith‘s face came as a contrast to the tough exterior she normally presents to the world. As she spoke with Seattle media for the first time since signing with the Storm through 2025, Diggins-Smith allowed herself to exhibit vulnerability while describing how tough the past year was.

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The new Seattle Storm point guard shared how for the past 18 months or so, coinciding partially with her pregnancy and the birth of her second child, she took time off to be with her family. She took time to remember her why, dig deep into that and generally recalibrate. But it was by no means easy.

“I didn’t feel like I wanted to keep playing,” she said.

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Bridget Pettis lifts Sky up

The All-Star point guard credited basketball great Bridget Pettis for bringing her out of that place. Something as simple as challenging her doubt by saying she is great and that she believes in her helped immensely. But as Diggins-Smith considered retiring, Pettis did even more.

A member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, Pettis was the seventh overall pick in the 1997 inaugural WNBA draft. After playing eight seasons with the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever, she switched to coaching. Serving first as an assistant for the Mercury from 2006-2009, she was part of the coaching staff for the 2007 and 2009 championships.

Pettis then took a break before returning in 2014. At that point, she joined the Tulsa Shock and stayed with that organization through 2017 and its move to Dallas. Pettis spent 2019 with the Chicago Sky before retiring again to focus on her nonprofit organization.

It was during her time in Tulsa that Pettis connected with Diggins-Smith. After being drafted third overall by the Tulsa Shock in the 2013 WNBA Draft, Diggins-Smith averaged 8.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.

Dallas Wings coach Bridget Pettis (right) talks with guard Skylar Diggins-Smith during the second half against Seattle Storm at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News)

The Notre Dame alum was so disappointed with this rookie season that she thought she didn’t want to play in the WNBA. She thought about just going overseas because “this league ain’t for me, I don’t fit in.” She credits Pettis with bringing her back to the W then and again this past year.

The pair have now worked together for over a decade.

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How Diggins-Smith came back stronger

Physically, Pettis helped Diggins-Smith lose 50 pounds. Weighing 204 pounds after her pregnancy — she’d been used to playing at 145 — she felt like she couldn’t move, couldn’t run, couldn’t walk. Since her daughter was just a couple of months old, the former Mercury player was in the gym with Pettis, paying for access to a gym and working out.

“She pushed me … she got me back to that belief where I feel like now I feel stronger than I was before and I didn’t think that was possible,” Diggins-Smith said. “Going through postpartum stuff you just never know where you’re going to be at … I can’t say enough about what Bridget means to this journey and just lighting another fire—like I’m coming for everything.”

The mentality that she can be great, is still great and can be even better was put into her mind by Pettis. Combined with the support system in Seattle and this group she genuinely believes those things Pettis wouldn’t let her forget.

This was not her first experience coming back from pregnancy, but she said this time was different. Physically, Diggins-Smith told The Next that “it was just different for me. It was harder to get back into shape. But I do feel like I’m in great shape. And still, with the time that we have before the games, I still feel like I have time to get into peak shape.”

Emotionally, “it was kind of different, the mindset that I had to approach it with and have more patience with myself, give myself more grace this time around,” she said. Pettis was crucial to both aspects.

Despite her postpartum struggles, she felt the last year overall was great. It also made her very eager to return.

“I feel like I’m better now,” Diggins-Smith said. “I feel like I’m stronger, mentally tougher, physically stronger, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to prove that.”

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Written by Bella Munson

Bella has been a contributor for The Next since September 2023 and is the site's Seattle Storm beat reporter. She also writes for The Equalizer while completing her Journalism & Public Interest Communication degree at the University of Washington.

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