Diamond DeShields knows she has plenty to prove in the WNBA

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Friday, April 13, 2018

NEW YORK -- Not long after Diamond DeShields arrived in Turkey last September, she gazed out her window and began to cry. But they weren't tears of sadness that she wouldn't be spending another season in college at Tennessee. Or of concern about being far from home in another country.

She wept with gratitude. Her goal, growing up the daughter of a professional athlete, baseball player Delino DeShields, was to be a pro athlete herself. And now she was. Admittedly, it all went differently than she expected when she started college at North Carolina in 2013. But sometimes, even when the road isn't what you expected, it still gets you where you want to go.

"There's a certain sense of fulfillment," DeShields said of her feeling last fall. "And it's very rewarding when you finally get to accomplish a small portion of what you intend on doing."

DeShields spent the winter playing for Cukurova in Turkey, and now phase two of her professional career soon will begin. She was the third overall selection in Thursday's WNBA draft, and is headed to the Chicago Sky.

"The location -- I'm happy with that, and I already have a relationship with the head coach," DeShields said of Chicago's Amber Stocks. "I'm looking forward to working with her. I have a pretty good feel for them, and they have a pretty good feel for me. And I've also got to know Gabby."

That would be Gabby Williams, who was the No. 4 pick by Chicago right after DeShields. The Sky maneuvered to get two high picks in this draft with the thought that they could select players that could make a difference right away. The 5-foot-11 Williams played four seasons at UConn and was part of two NCAA title teams.

DeShields and Williams are both exceptional athletes. Williams was a top-level high jumper as a prep athlete, and DeShields joked Thursday that she was the best athlete in a family that includes her father; her brother, Delino Jr., also a major league baseball player; and her mom, Tisha, a track standout at Tennessee.

She said it with a smile, but it also didn't seem like she was totally kidding. DeShields believes in herself, and she feels confident she can be a success with the Sky.

The 6-foot-1 guard, who scored 1,666 points as a collegian in one season with the Tar Heels and two with the Lady Vols, said her decision last summer to go pro was something that at first didn't occur to her after the 2016-17 season. She had a year of eligibility left, but after going through graduation at Tennessee, realized that she was emotionally ready to move on from college.

"I did publicly say that I was coming back [to Tennessee], but that was prior to graduation," DeShields said. "I changed my mind. I thought, 'What am I going to be doing next year? I'm not going to grad school; I'm just going to be here playing.'

"Granted, I love to try to compete and play for championships. But trying to do that in college became less of a priority for me. My future became more important. It just made more sense then to go pro."

DeShields twice played in the Elite Eight: her freshman season at North Carolina, and then her redshirt sophomore season at Tennessee. In between, she sat out a transfer year and had surgery on her leg. Her final season, the Lady Vols lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"It was humbling, and that is the best word I can use," DeShields said of describing her college career. "I came from immense success in high school, where everything that could have been done, I did.

"And then I got to college, and my freshman year was my best year. I'm glad I no longer quantify success just with trophies. Because if I did, I would be regretting college, I'd be angry and maybe even resentful of what happened. But I'm grateful for all of my failures, because it all led me to this moment. It's changed me into the person I am."

But it's not as if DeShields didn't accomplish things as a college player. By the same token, she went into that experience probably thinking it was going to be easier than it was. That's not how she has approached the pro game.

DeShields said she loved her experience in Turkey, and it was better than she expected. She also said she benefited greatly from her coach there, Ceyhun Yildizoglu.

"He has helped transform me as a person and a player," DeShields said. "I think the thing I learned most was how much I didn't know about myself as a basketball player. I got over there and realized there were some simple things and concepts that either I didn't know, or whoever had communicated them to me before hadn't gotten through.

"I credit a lot of what I'm going to be bringing to the WNBA this summer to working with him these last few months."

In particular, DeShields knows she has to give consistent effort defensively. She has the size, quickness and skills to be a strong defender even against the WNBA's wings and shooting guards, who typically are the most difficult players to guard.

"I'm going to be playing against people like Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, the best players in the world," DeShields said. "If you take breaks on defense in this league, you're going to get embarrassed. I know that."

She also thinks she better understands how to be more effective offensively. DeShields has range from anywhere on court, but she wants to take smarter shots.

"You have to know what you can do, and what you can't do," DeShields said. "I know my midrange game is my bread and butter. If I'm not utilizing that in games, I'm more than likely not going to play a great game. You find your spots on the floor, and then it comes down to repetition. And if you've been in the gym working, you're going to be OK."

DeShields also understands that some observers aren't sold on her yet. But she's all right with that, too. She knows the biggest proving ground for women's basketball is to make it in the WNBA. It's time. She's ready.

"This is the most elite group of women's basketball players on the planet," she said. "To be respected on this level of playing is what you want."

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