Diamond DeShields has heard the naysayers taking their shots at her. They have said that Norcross (Ga.) High lost because she is immature. They have said that she is young and she has to grow up a little bit.
Each time DeShields, a 6-foot-1 wing from Norcross, Ga. who is regarded as the top player in the Class of 2013, hears these negative remarks she simply lets them bounce off of her and instead uses them as motivation. She is out to prove these people wrong, prove that the fact that she is just 16 has little to do with her exceptional ability to play basketball.
“It doesn’t really hurt my feelings when people say that, but people are going to say what they want,’’ DeShields said. “I take a lot of pride in (proving people wrong). I don’t want anybody to ever have to say that about me. I want them to say, `She’s so mature for her age. She’s a great player. On and off the court, she knows how to communicate with her team and be a leader.’ I can be anything that anyone else out here can be. And my age isn’t a factor at all.’’
DeShields is once again trying to prove herself this week at the USA Basketball U-19 World Championship Team Trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. Like she was last year competing on the U.S. U-18 team, she is the youngest of the 32 players at the trials. Twelve players in the field are already playing at the collegiate level.
Again, none of this fazes DeShields. She said she does not want to simply make the team. She wants to be one of the best players on the U-19 team. The list of 16 finalists will be announced today.
“I guess playing basketball I’ve always had to deal with being one of the younger kids,’’ DeShields said. “The talents that God’s given me are far beyond my years. So it’s something I’ve learned to accept. I don’t use my age as an excuse ever. I actually like the fact that I’m one of the youngest because when I go out here I can do basically everything everyone else out here can do. And it feels good to be able to prove that I’m just as good as anybody else out here.’’
DeShields, who is being targeted by UConn, Tennessee and numerous other elite programs, averaged 9.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 14.2 minutes to help lead the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship last summer. She was third on the team in scoring behind Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford and UConn’s Bria Hartley.
Being invited to the four-day trials this week was an honor for DeShields.
“Last year even was (an honor) because last year I wasn’t even supposed to be on the U-18 team,’’ DeShields said. “So just that in itself being called up to tryout for the U-18 team was more like a dream come true to me. I never once thought I’d be on the court with Bria Hartley and (UConn incoming freshman) Kaleena Lewis. Last year as a freshman I didn’t even know Kaleena. I used to watch her play like, `Gosh, she’s so good.’ And then like now me and Kaleena are best friends. So it’s truly a blessing being able to not only play on these teams but to have made friends. They’re a great group of girls.’’
DeShields was named the Gatorade state Player of the Year and Ms. Georgia Basketball this season. She averaged 20.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 4.0 steals to lead Norcross to a 29-3 record and its second straight Class 5A state championship. She scored 20 of her game-high 27 points in the first half in a 61-36 win over McEachern in the state final.
DeShields averaged 17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.6 steals to lead the Blue Devils to a 29-4 record last season as a freshman.
“As a player and as an athlete she has tremendous upside, but she’s already at an elite level,’’ said U-19 head coach Jen Rizzotti, who also coached DeShields last summer. “She’s smarter than she acts. I tell her that all the time. I’d like to see her fit into the team concept and use her individual skills to elevate her above the others at her position.’’
DeShields said she prides herself on working hard, spending as much time in the gym as possible. Norcross coach Angie Hembree, who coached former UConn star Maya Moore for two years at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Ga., has kept her humble and challenged her to continue to improve.
“Last year when I first started getting all my awards, the first thing she did was she didn’t even congratulate me,’’ DeShields said. “She was like, `Just take it as a compliment. You can’t get a big head. You need to use this as fuel to make you want to get better. You’re no where near where you could be. Don’t settle. Keep working hard.’ So that’s my mentality. Everything that I get is a mentality, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. I’ll always strive for more.’’
While vastly talented, DeShields is a complete individual. She has a 3.0 grade point average and volunteers as a youth basketball instructor with her church and for the Jack and Jill of America service organization for African-American women.
She, too, hails from a family with a deep athletic background. Her father, Delino DeShields, spent 13 seasons in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs from 1990-2002. He is currently the manager of the Class A Dayton Dragons in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Her mother, Tisha Milligan-DeShields, was an All-American heptathlete at Tennessee. And her brother, Delino DeShields Jr., was the eighth overall pick by the Houston Astros in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. He is currently playing for the Lexington Legends in the Class A South Atlantic League.
“Actually, my dad and my brother … they don’t really involve themselves too much in my basketball because they’re so busy with baseball,’’ DeShields said. “But I give all the credit to my mom, honestly. My mom has four kids. She’s got to raise us all. She’s got a son who was drafted out of high school. She’s trying to teach him how to pay bills, teach him how to pay a car note, teach him how to grow up. And she also has to teach me how to grow up because there’s not too many sophomores in high school in my position. And so my mom has to teach me … I have to act older. And I’m not a normal person. I know I’m not a normal kid. But as much as I try to be normal, I know that certain things that I do I have to be above everybody else. So I try to carry myself with a lot of dignity and a lot of pride. And I just give a lot of credit to my mom, really. She’s the best.’’
DeShields is currently in the early stages of the recruiting process. There are schools that appeal to her, but she has not yet narrowed down a list. A final decision is not remotely close.
She said that Hembree has advised her that she has to make a list of five schools at some point this summer. DeShields attended First Night festivities at UConn this past October.
“A lot of kids commit early because they say they’re tired of the recruiting process,’’ DeShields said. “I’m like, `How could you want it to be of it hasn’t even started?’ And, me, I love the recruiting process, honestly. I don’t get tired of it. It hasn’t even started for me. So maybe I guess in a couple of months maybe my mentality of that will change. But until then I don’t see it ending any time soon.’’
Here are some more comments from DeShields …
On remaining humble:
“Hard work does pay off,’’ DeShields said. “I’m in the gym whenever I can be. When I’m in there it always feels good after a hard workout. That’s the feeling you always want to have. So just working hard feels good to me. Sweat, blood and tears. Everything you put into it it pays off when you’re on the court and you go out there and you have a triple-double or you know you do something amazing you know you’ve worked hard for it and you earned it.’’
On the recruiting process:
“It hasn’t gotten too heavy,’’ DeShields said. “People contact me through my coach. They’ll call. `Have Diamond give us a call.’ So I try to keep in contact with some coaches, but I haven’t really been calling them like that recently just because I’ve been trying to stay focused on this USA Basketball stuff. But, definitely, by the end of this summer, me and my coach have talked about it … By the end of the summer she’s told me I basically need to have it narrowed down to five schools.’’
“(Hembree’s) telling me I need to have my list down to five,’’ DeShields said. “She knows a lot about the recruiting process. She’s been a part of it. Once again already having dealt with it with Maya. So she’s really reliable. I go to her with everything. We have long talks about college. And the more I talk about it the more I realize how big of a decision it is. I don’t want to be one of those kids who regret their decision. So I’m just going got keep talking to her. But, at the same time, she also gives me a lot of space to make my own decision. She doesn’t pressure me in one way, which why I love her. She’s just a mediator, basically.’’
On having schools that appeal to her:
“I have schools that appeal to me, but I don’t really know where I’d like to visit to,’’ DeShields said. “I like everybody, honestly. I like western schools. I like northern schools. I like southern schools. That’s part of my issue. My coach is like, `Oh, you don’t like them. No, you don’t like them.’ I’m like, `Coach, how are going to tell me who I like?’ I’m just trying to think how she thinks I guess and just be like, `You know, I really don’t like this school. I really do like this school. I really want to take into consideration this school.’’’