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ASU women's basketball standout Tyi Skinner is a "DIF3RNT BREED"

Taylyn Hadley Avatar
November 19, 2023

In 2022, former Delaware head coach Natasha Adair joined ASU women’s basketball following the retirement of Charli Turner Thorne, who had guided the program for 25 years starting in 1996.

With hard shoes to fill, coach Adair took Sun Devil nation by storm with her dedication and powerful presence.

Adair’s arrival also brought incoming junior Tyi Skinner to the team. Skinner had previously played two years at Delaware where she not only secured a place on the CAA All-Rookie team but also equaled the program’s game-high record by making 5 three-pointers on two separate occasions.

Skinner entered Tempe with a buoyancy to her, flaunting her quirky flair not just on the court but on the street through her unique fashion sense. 

A sense that she expresses through DIF3RNT BREED – pronounced different breed. 

No, this is not just Skinner’s way of saying that she likes to dress or act differently than those around her. 

Although she certainly does stick out amongst her peers, DIF3RNT BREED is the clothing brand that Skinner has been working on since high school. 

A brand that sets out to let athletes express themselves through what they wear.

“DIF3RNT BREED is out to inspire others – you got to express your game through your gear,” Skinner said. “Everyone has a story. You’re unique, one of a kind in your own way and DIF3RNT BREED is here to just promote everyone individually about standing out.”

“Express your game through your gear” 

DIF3RNT BREED is not just unique in the way that it is spelled. 

The brand is centered around creating casual-comfy, high-fashion apparel for athletes made by an athlete and places extra emphasis on representing women first. 

“I have a lot of simple clothing, like some people are quiet, some people you know are loud, some people express things (in) different ways,” Skinner said. “So I just try to have a variety of different things when I make my designs.”

Skinner started working on the brand when she was a junior in high school. Out of the DMV area of Washington D.C., she belonged to a culture that longed for individuality. 

The competitive atmosphere around athletics in her hometown was different than she had ever seen and it inspired her to take that nature and embody it into a new kind of art form.  

With a strong mission statement and a grounded idea about what she wanted to produce, she began to take the next steps in her process. 

Upon joining the University of Delaware, Skinner began to witness the tangible development and progress of her brand when her freshman season was affected by Covid-19, sparing her time away from the court and allowing her more time to craft her apparel. 

“That’s when I just bought some bulk apparel stuff and started making it,” Skinner said. “(I was) heat pressing it all myself before I actually started to get a manufacturer.”

Skinner’s apparel ranges from shirts and sweats to slides, socks and key chains, all adorned with ‘DIF3RNT BREED’ or ‘DB.’

The clothes are comfortable and meant to be worn for everyone while breaking a sweat or lounging around. 

Building a brand while doubling as a student athlete is as difficult as it sounds. Skinner takes her summer breaks to go all in on developing her product, but then has to take a step back once classes roll around and the season begins. 

Nevertheless, maintaining this equilibrium is a sacrifice she willingly makes.

“If I’m being honest, DIF3RNT BREED only exists because I play basketball, you know what I mean,” Skinner said. 

While Skinner credits her basketball career to the reason she created the brand, she continues to actively build it and has big goals for the future of the brand.  

Skinner pictures DIF3RNT BREED as the next Under Armour or even Nike, but the caveat and what makes her passions special is that she wants to be the future of women’s and girl’s sports. 

“You know how Jordan got signed to Nike before he got to college,” Skinner asked. “I want to do that before the girls sign.” 

While she can envision a future where all athletes will be involved with DIF3RNT BREED, she wants to focus on women first. Signing woman athletes to shoe deals and brand deals, giving them an equal opportunity to the mass variety of options that men and boys have in athletics. 

Skinner has already made significant strides in promoting her clothing line and exploring the realm of fashion – even participating in a runway event in early 2023.

“Fierce–fierce, walk–walk”

Super Bowl weekend, 2023, the Philadelphia Eagles faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Skinner was walking at the Phoenix Fashion Show. 

As one of the final additions to culminate the show, Phoenix Fashion Week extended an invitation to Skinner, contributing to a lineup that featured fellow student-athletes and fashion enthusiasts.

As a first timer on the runway, Skinner was a natural. Afterall, she knew all about what it takes to sell an outfit. 

Adorned in a plaid suit-skirt combo with a popped-collared white blouse underneath and some stylish sneakers, Skinner strutted down the runway with her red twists adding a pop of color to the whole look. 

Although admitting that she was nervous upon getting the call, Skinner truly looked like she belonged on the stage under the lights. 

“I like walking on the runway, it was fun,” Skinner said. “(There) was like cameras flashing, it felt like you was in a movie if I’m being honest. So it was a great environment. I really enjoyed it.”

Much like her excelling in her skills on the court, all she needed was a little bit of practice and she excelled on the runway as well. 

The runway setting mirrored the intensity of her life on the basketball court, and Skinner swiftly realized that excelling on the runway demanded more than just the act of walking; it required a unique skill set and presence.

“It’s funny because you go to basketball practice (and) I’m used to that every day and it’s real competitive, like it’s more intense (and) you got to focus on details,” Skinner said. “It was the same thing when I had to runway practice. He was talking to me the whole time (that) I was walking. He was like ‘Fierce–fierce, walk–walk.’” 

Instinctively, she envisioned a future where models, much like herself, would be in the spotlight representing her clothing line in a DIF3RNT BREED fashion show.

Perhaps, in the future, Skinner might even find herself stepping onto the stage to personally showcase her own creations.

“I don’t know, we’ll see in the future if I want to do it,” Skinner said. “I’m open to anything. You know, I’m real big on new experiences.”

Although Skinner garnered commendation for her innate talents on the runway, she also received some constructive criticism from the directors at Phoenix Fashion Week.

Criticism that included the fact that Skinner stands at only 5-foot-5.

“The dude told me that if I keep practicing I’ll be good,” Skinner said. “He did say I got short legs and short people don’t model, so, we’ll see.” 

Her journey as a Division I basketball player has proven that her “short legs” are no hindrance. A trait that no one overlooks more than Coach Adair because the 5-foot-5 point guard has the talents and confidence of those twice her size.

Skinner places immense value on Adair’s opinions and support to the extent that she chose to join Adair at ASU after spending two years together in Delaware. Wherever Adair goes, Skinner is sure to follow.

“I love her genuinely,” Skinner said. “I chose her for a reason, to come play for her, I’m still playing for her.” 

A born leader and a her coach

Skinner and Adair, whom she affectionately refers to as ‘Coach A,’ share multi-faceted levels in their relationship. They have a dynamic on-the-court connection as well as a meaningful off-the-court relationship.

Naturally, these distinct levels in their relationship developed after spending two years together and subsequently relocating cross-country with each other.

The pair’s on-court relationship is what Skinner refers to as a typical coach and point guard relationship. Adair depends on Skinner to actively become a better player and a better leader. The point guard is the floor general, the one who gets everything in motion. 

“It’s hard being a leader like, don’t nobody want to do the right thing all the time every second of the day,” Skinner said. “You want to break discipline sometimes because sometimes you don’t feel like going all the way to the line… but she just continues to tell me you just can’t do that.”

In Skinner’s two seasons with Adair in Delaware, Skinner averaged 10.9 points per game, 2.6 assists, 2.2 rebounds and shot nearly 80% from the free throw line. 

The two led the YoUDee’s to a 24-5 season followed by a 24-8 season, finishing first and second in the CAA conference. 

The duo’s impressive 48-13 record after two years together wasn’t a stroke of luck; it stemmed from a mutual respect that fueled their shared desire for success.

Respect that prospers even in times of struggle.

“It’s that type of relationship, it’s been built over years,” Skinner said. “I trust her, she trusts me, it’s not something that just happened overnight.” 

ASU finished its 2022-23 season 8-20 with Adair and Skinner in their first seasons. Although Skinner had a standout year with 19.3 points per game, shooting 35% from behind the arc and 37% from the inside of it, the two have stood tall through the test.

In their off-court relationship, Skinner characterizes it as familial, specifically likening it to a mother-daughter dynamic.

Having recruited Skinner to Delaware straight out of high school, Adair now finds herself witnessing Skinner’s growth and transformation unfold right before her eyes.

The love between the two is genuine and one that players are lucky to find given the historically complicated relationships between coaches and players. 

This, obviously not the case with Skinner and Adair.  

“I have been bothering her every day since my freshman year calling her all the time, just (to) talk to her, just to get on her nerves really,” Skinner said. “She really (is) the older version of me, we act just alike.”

Adair’s unwavering support remains steadfast in the current situation that Skinner finds herself in.

It was announced a week ago that Skinner will be sidelined for the entirety of the 2023-24 season due to a lower leg injury.

Despite feeling upset about the unfortunate situation, Skinner is taking on her first serious injury with a sense of resilience and perspective.

“(I’m) just really approaching each day, trying to get better just like how I would do if I was playing and if I was practicing,” Skinner said. “When it comes to me getting through this year, I just gotta take it one day at a time that’s all.”

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