AJC Girls Player of the Year: Diamond DeShields

Diamond DeShields led Norcross to the state Class AAAAAA title. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

Diamond DeShields led Norcross to the state Class AAAAAA title. (Curtis Compton, AJC)


By Steve Hummer
steve@ajc.com

Some names are inherited. Some names are classic. Some trendy. Others seem almost accidental.

Occasionally a child is born to a name that is the perfect reflection of its owner. It is a name that fits like skin, a defining name, one that allows a birth certificate to conform to all truth-in-advertising laws.

Tisha DeShields had certain preconceptions in mind some 18 years and 12 days ago when she named her first daughter.

“Diamond represents so many wonderful things,” she said.

“It’s the hardest mineral. It has to go through so much in order to become a real diamond. There was a lot of symbolism in her name. To me and my ex-husband, it was really important to us to pick a name that was empowering, to pick a name that was meaningful.”

World, meet Diamond DeShields.

Leading the discussion for the best high school player in the country, DeShields, to the surprise of no one, is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Player of the Year. Before departing for North Carolina as the centerpiece of perhaps the nation’s best recruiting class, she led Norcross to the state Class AAAAAA title and did so with a style that befit the sparkling nature of her name.

When DeShields says, “I’m working on building my brand and being a good representative of young female athletes, (proving that) you can play pretty” this is what she means:

In the state championship game against North Gwinnett, she accessorized an easy 20-point victory with a couple of lovely moves. Grabbing a defensive rebound, she spun away from two defenders in the backcourt, went the length of the floor, deked another defender and finished with a running scoop shot. In another parting gesture, she completed a (below-the-rim) alley-oop with a touch as soft as Egyptian cotton.

The numbers are gaudy, certainly. DeShields completed her high school career having scored 2,324 points, third most in Gwinnett history. Last season, she scored more than 23 points per game while chipping in an average of 6.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.7 steals.

While the numbers testify to the completeness of her game, they do not fully explain the reason DeShields is regarded in the league with Maya Moore, who went from Collins Hill to stardom at Connecticut in 2007. There never has been an eye test that DeShields has not aced. You see her and you just know that here is a player of a special stripe, just as you’d see a Bugatti and know it is a different kind of car.

Numbers can’t explain the gross tonnage of hyperbole that Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell has dumped upon DeShields before she has stepped one toe on Carolina’s practice floor.

“We love watching Diamond play,” said Hatchell, who was a regular at Norcross games even after her prize recruit had signed.

Setting the bar as high as it will go, Hatchell said, “She reminds me of a female Michael Jordan because she can do everything. She fits our style. We fast break like crazy, run and trap and press and everything. The style is perfect for her. Our style will let her show what she can do.”

At DeShields’ signing ceremony, someone handed her a vintage Jordan North Carolina jersey and asked her to slip into it and pose for a few photos. She happily obliged.

Not shying away from the expectations, DeShields nevertheless reacts with the proper amount of incredulity when presented with her future coach’s Jordan talk: “I’m kinda like, ‘Whoa, what does she see that I don’t see?’ To me Michael Jordan is the top of the top; no one is comparable to him. I’m just me. She obviously sees a lot of potential in me, but that’s all I see it as — potential.”

She is the bearer of a potent athletic legacy. It is well-known that her father is former major league infielder Delino DeShields, who built a 13-year career upon his fast-twitch muscles. (The baseball diamond was yet another symbol built into her name). But there are gifts from the other side, too. Her mother was a heptathlete at Tennessee, a multi-purpose track talent good enough to qualify for an Olympic Trials.

It was Diamond DeShields’ birthright to always be the quickest, most dexterous girl on the playground. There was not a sport she tried that she did not look comfortable with.

“First time I saw her throw a softball I had to laugh. It was incredible,” Norcross basketball coach Angie Hembree said.

Imagine DeShields covering a smaller court. Tennis was an option of her childhood, but she put her racket aside by middle school because, she said, “I was the only one on the court playing. (Basketball) is fun. You win together; you lose together; everyone is held accountable.”

There it was settled. She would focus her gifts on basketball, and every other sport would just have to go wanting.

Transferring from Woodward Academy to Norcross as a freshman, DeShields further courted Maya Moore comparisons. Hembree coached Moore for two seasons at Collins Hill. Both Naismith national players of the year, DeShields and Moore have to date travelled relatively parallel courses.

Answering the inevitable comparison question, Hembree said, “Maya had a motor that never stopped. Diamond might be a better athlete. Both are incredibly smart as far as basketball IQ. Both work on their games.

“I think that Maya probably was the most mature 15-year-old I had ever met in my life. Very grounded, very spiritual. I think Diamond has grown into that.”

Her coach would occasionally break out the Moore example when it was time to set standards, but DeShields said that became rarer as she grew into a style of her own.

At Norcross, DeShields teamed with Shayla Cooper — a Georgetown signee — to form the core of a dynasty. Playing to a demanding crowd is nothing new. It was championship-or-bust this season. Those who know her best say she thrives in the hot lights of expectation.

“It’s not pressure for her,” her mother said. “She considers it an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence with a Maya Moore or a Michael Jordan. We still don’t know yet what kind of talent is brewing inside of her, so we don’t know what’s in store.

“I just look forward to every game, and I sit in amazement when she plays because it’s definitely not anything that’s coached. All I can say it’s God manifesting himself on the court.”

Of the basketball yet to come, Hembree, the coach who is handing her off, can only say “It’s going to be fun to watch.”

The princess Diamond of Georgia is now the hope Diamond of North Carolina.

Que up the Rihanna lyrics: Shine bright like a diamond.

Alert the headline writers to the myriad possibilities coming to Chapel Hill. Various apparel marketing departments may want to scramble as well.

DeShields will do her best to keep all possibilities fed.

“I’m going to continue to stand strong and be a shining Diamond, shining as bright as I can,” she said.

7 comments Add your comment

S. Thomas Coleman

March 22nd, 2013
7:13 pm

Nice job, Steve, as always!

Ladies and gents, you’ve just witnessed why Steve Hummer is the best columnist at the AJC, and one of the best in the country.

S. Thomas Coleman

S. Thomas Coleman

March 22nd, 2013
7:26 pm

Will someone please tell me why Mark Richt and his staff get absolutely KILLED by fans and UGA supporters when he fails to sign more than five of Georgia’s “Super 11,” while Andy Landers NEVER, EVER signs more than ONE (and sometimes NONE) of the state’s top girls and no one — including UGA AD Greg McGarity — says hardly a word about it??!!

Landers hasn’t recruited this state well since the days of Katrina McClain and Saudia Roundtree, back in the 1990s. UGA’s program should be mentioned in the same breath as UConn, Tennessee, Baylor, Stanford and Notre Dame. UGA could compete for national championships with in-state talent alone. The fact that it does not rests squarely on Landers’ shoulders.

Far be it from me to suggest that the powers that be need to purchase a gold-plated rocking chair for Coach Landers and send him on his way, but …

S. Thomas Coleman

Black

March 22nd, 2013
7:53 pm

Kids are thrilled by the bright lights, that’s why parked should of kept his butt at home.

Pete Foley

March 23rd, 2013
7:53 am

Humm:

Great article. It will be fun to watch Diamond’s progress in Chapel Hill. (But I do have to chuckle when I read about a high-schooler who’s “building my brand” …). Hope the Jordan equivalencies don’t hamstring her growth. Trust all is well with you.

Pete Foley

UGA?

March 24th, 2013
6:20 am

It’s not Andy Landers or Mark Richt. It’s the school. Good place but not a great place.

athensbball

March 25th, 2013
11:16 am

@ST Coleman: because it girl’s basketball. sorry but its true. college football brings in more money in one game than a girls team brings in an entire season. Also, because its UGA. and the only thing these fans care about is football. Mark Richt has won 2 SEC titles and finished in the top 10 almost every year he’s been at the school, but yet he always on the hot seat. Mark Fox could go another 3 years without even making the tournament and no one would care

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