Sometimes the layup line is enough.
College coaches spend a lot of their summer sitting in bleachers watching club basketball, trying to unearth the hidden gem that will vault their programs into the top 25. But Diamond DeShields
was never a hidden gem.
At 6-foot-2 and marvelously athletic, the daughter of former Major Leaguer Baseball star Delino DeShields just needed a couple of dribbles and a layup to make it clear that she had all the tools to be an elite player.
Of course there are more than a few great athletes out there, but only one is the MaxPreps’ National Player of the Year, and that’s because DeShields did more than just rely on her physical gifts.
“In ninth grade, I couldn’t shoot (3-pointers),” said DeShields, who set to move on and play for North Carolina. “I was a slasher -- all my points were inside.”
But unlike the vast majority of highly successful players, DeShields didn’t settle for success against her peers.
“Why should I limit myself?” she said. “If I can do more things, if my coach has more confidence in me, he’ll give me more minutes.”
So despite her already elevated level of play, and the hordes of college coaches who were ready to make offers to her as a 14-year-old, DeShields went to the gym.
“In the summer before my sophomore year, I devoted myself to shooting,” said DeShields
That hard work and improvement made her the youngest player at the USA Basketball tryouts. The experience opened her eyes, as suddenly she was practicing with, and competing against, players like Chiney Ogwumike and others four years older. Sure, it was nerve-wracking, she said, but she wound up staying for a month rather than just a few days.
“I learned a lot. In order to lead, you have to be led,” she said, explaining how she discovered what leadership is. “When I came back to high school, I was like a completely different person.”
Angie Hembree, her coach at Norcross (Ga.)
, worked with another great player when she was at Collins Hill. “Maya (Moore) was beyond her years maturity-wise. She was 15 going on 26. Diamond grew into that.
“You could tell what a great athlete she was,” said Hembree, who first saw DeShields as an eighth-grader. “She was already in another league. Diamond could have played any sport and been an all-American.”
In fact, she started out not even liking basketball that much. But team sports suited her personality more than an individual one like tennis.
“I quit to play tennis. The team I was on was horrible,” DeShields said. “When I would lose in tennis, I would beat myself up,” she said.
Another coach asked her to play basketball on a team that turned out to be pretty good, and she was hooked.
“Basketball was the first sport that stuck,” she said. “If it had been softball, I probably would have stuck with softball.”
Luckily for Norcross and North Carolina, DeShields stuck with basketball, and she capped her career by winning her third Georgia title in four years, and was named to both the McDonald’s and WBCA all-American teams.
“It’s gratifying,” she said. “I’ve done more than I wanted. I wanted one state title, and I got three. I wanted to make either the McDonald’s team or the WBCA team, and I made both.”
But her excessive success came because she did what she had to do.
“Sometimes these premier players don’t want to do the dirty work,” said Hembree. “You see a kid coasting on her talent, and it’s hard to pull for her. But when you see a player work that hard, she’s easy to root for.”
But it’s not as if all DeShields does is hoop.
“I was in the chorus when I was younger, but I wanted to play the trumpet,” she said, and she still recalls her musical career with pride. “I was first chair, with all the boys, and I was the youngest in the honor band. The director wanted me to be in the jazz band, but I didn’t have time.”
DeShields still plays the trumpet, and her taste in music extends beyond the hip-hop that dominates the iPods of most of her contemporaries. She wants to follow up her musical prowess with a degree in anatomy and physiology at UNC. Still, though, her main focus will be on basketball, and that focus is unlikely to waver.
For example, some elite players aren’t that motivated during their senior year in high school, as they have their scholarship and they’re local heroes, but not DeShields.
“I told my coach I was never going to check out,” she said. “It wasn’t just for us, it was for the community.”
And despite losses early in the season, including to North Gwinnett, the team Norcross beat in the state championship game, DeShields and her teammates kept their confidence up.
“One of the things that marks a great player is how she brings others along with her,” Hembree said.
And that’s exactly what DeShields did. Her numbers, of course, were exceptional (26 points per game, 7 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 3.8 assists) and she had some big-time help from Shayla Cooper, but DeShields was clearly the leader of the band.
And she is clearly the MaxPreps’ National Player of the Year.