Skyline’s Zack Diggs protects the ball from Independence’s Wesley Williams during the Region 3B championship game on Feb. 12 in Front Royal. Diggs, the area's leading scorer, is the Daily's 2021 Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline boys basketball coach Harold Chunn said recently that there were people who questioned his decision to elevate Zack Diggs to the varsity squad as a freshman in 2019 rather than let the guard continue to cut his teeth at the junior varsity level for another season. A year later, a talented Hawks team was built around the versatile point guard.

Diggs was the engine that made the Hawks go this past winter, Chunn said, the catalyst for a squad that went 10-1 in the regular season and ran past the competition in its first two playoff games before it all came to an end with a triple-overtime loss to Independence in the Region 3B championship game on Feb. 12.

The sophomore did it all for the Hawks and led the area in scoring (15.8 points per game) while also ranking among the top 12 in rebounds (5.2 per game, 12th in the area), assists (three per game, fifth), steals (2.1 per game, seventh), field goal percentage (45%, eighth), 3-point shooting (30.2%, fifth) and free throw percentage (66%, first).

Diggs was an All-Northwestern District (Class 3) and All-Region 3B first-teamer, and he was named second-team all-state by the Virginia High School Coaches Association.

“He’s definitely the total package,” Chunn said of Diggs, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2021 Boys Basketball Player of the Year. “He’s been the floor general. Even when he came in as a freshman, a lot of people doubted my decision to bring him up instead of having him on JV to start out with. But I know how he plays. I know it’s 100% and he gives it every time.”

Diggs was the perfect fit for a Skyline team that has embraced a fast-paced style in its two years under Chunn. A basketball “diehard,” according to his head coach, Diggs possesses excellent vision and court awareness, to the point that Chunn said the sophomore point guard is often two steps ahead of the defense when he’s got the ball in his hands.

That’s a valuable trait for a playstyle that necessitates quick-thinking as the Hawks are always looking to push the pace.

“You’ve got to have somebody that can handle the ball and actually see the floor, and Zack, he can see the floor,” Chunn said. “As soon as he gets the ball he’s already seeing what he’s gonna do with it, whether he’s coming down to score, whether he’s coming down to dish it off.”

Diggs’ ability to read the floor is mostly a natural gift, he said, though it certainly helps that he’s logged countless minutes on the basketball court since picking up the sport at 6 or 7 years old, through middle school and high school competition, parks and rec leagues and on the AAU scene.

Diggs has always been a multi-tool on the court, he said. As a point guard, of course, he enjoys dishing out assists to his teammates, but Diggs also takes pride in his ability to pull down rebounds and score.

“At the beginning of the game, I know somebody has to get us fired up,” Diggs said. “Even if it’s not me, I like to get assists to get my team fired up or something, but usually I score to get us going and get us in transition and stuff like that.

“Really, I just visualize it,” he added. “If I see somebody that I know I can score on, I’m gonna score. But I'm gonna look to pass before. I look to get a couple passes in, then when I know, ‘Alright, we aren’t getting anything right now,’ I’m gonna try to do what I can do.”

Diggs exudes confidence in his ability – “If you put up a shot and you don’t think you’re gonna make it, what’s the point of even shooting it?” he explained – and he seemed to elevate his game when the stakes were highest for the Hawks this past season.

The sophomore led Skyline in scoring in each of its three playoff games, dropping 23 points – to go along with seven rebounds, four steals and four assists – in a Region 3B quarterfinal win over Lightridge, 18 points in the semifinals against James Monroe and 23 points in a 107-102 loss to Independence in triple-overtime in the regional championship. In the latter game, Diggs swiped a steal and converted it into a layup on the other end in the final 30 seconds of regulation to force overtime.

The big-game atmosphere, Diggs said, is something that he’s conscious of, and he soaks it in while telling himself what he needs to do to help his team come out on top.

“I know I have to step up to win,” Diggs said. “We knew we didn’t want to go out in the first round, second round, so you’ve got to step up and score the points or even dish off assists, grab more rebounds, anything to help increase what you’re doing on the floor.”

That leader-type mentality wasn’t supposed to be necessarily required from Diggs for another season. His ascension to that role was hastened when senior guard Mason Schmitz, Skyline’s leading scorer in 2019-20, told the Hawks’ coaches during the preseason that he would not be playing basketball in 2020-21. Diggs stepped into a bigger role, alongside senior Marion “Budder” Haley, he said, without hesitation.

“He took over as a leader,” Chunn said of Diggs. “He basically got practices going, he’d get them in the stretches and start everything. None of us coaches even had to be here. We’d walk in the gym and they were already doing the drills that we’d normally do at the beginning of practice because Zack and them got them out on the floor.”

Diggs’ leadership and his talent with the ball in his hands have Chunn excited about what the future holds for Skyline, which still has two more seasons of the point guard’s services. Diggs, for one, is aiming to take the Hawks to their first state tournament and beyond.

The Hawks had hoped to achieve that feat in an abnormal, shortened season amidst a pandemic this past winter, but Diggs said Skyline can take pride in the fact that it at least improved over the previous season when it was ousted in the Region 3B semifinals.

“We wanted to go farther but at least we did add on to what we did last year,” said Diggs, who agreed that the Hawks were fortunate to have simply gotten through a season in which many teams either didn’t get to play or had their seasons significantly altered by COVID-related quarantines.

“We were really glad we got to get (the season) in because at the beginning a lot of us thought we weren’t even gonna get to have a season,” he added. “We did only get 14 games but still, at least we got to play some. We got to compete.”

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