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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Diamond DeShields comes full circle

By Andrew Linnehan

Just think. It might have never happened.

None of it. Not the three state titles at Norcross (Ga.). Not the four gold medals with USA Basketball. Not the Naismith national girls player of the year award. Not the 24 points or seven rebounds or nearly five steals per game.

When Diamond DeShields was 9, she walked away from basketball.

"I didn't like it," said DeShields, the No. 3 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100. "My team was losing every game and I couldn't stand it."

To this day, she'll tell you one of the stories she remembers most vividly about her childhood is that her dad was OK with her decision to quit basketball.

"A lot of people's dads would've said, 'No, stick with it,'" DeShields said. "No one in my family had ever quit something, but he was totally OK with it."

Her dad is former major leaguer Delino DeShields. In his best seasons, he hit just under .300 and stole as many as 56 bases while playing for several different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos. He was at ease with his daughter's decision because he knew how excruciating losses are. He knew the pressures of being the star (he was drafted 12th overall in the 1987 MLB draft), and at times, how miserable life is just trying to equal expectations. He lived all of this at the highest level.

For four years, Diamond DeShields didn't touch a basketball. She enjoyed tennis more, an individual sport in which she alone controlled the outcome. She went down to Orlando, Fla., and trained with Richard Williams -- the father of Venus and Serena -- in hopes of becoming a professional tennis player one day.

Various basketball coaches would see her at tennis tournaments, and her effortless display of quickness and power. Almost daily, says DeShields, different people would approach and try to cajole her back to basketball. She had no problem saying no every time. But one day, when she was 13, she caved. Call it a weak moment or call it destiny, but she finally said, "I'll give it one more try."

"When I went back, we won every game, DeShields said. Clearly I was having a better time."

On Wednesday night, DeShields will culminate her decorated high school career -- many have already proclaimed her the next Maya Moore -- by playing at the United Center in Chicago in the McDonald's All American Game. Part of the comparison to Moore stems from the fact both are from Georgia. The other part is purely skill-based.

DeShields will join two other University of North Carolina commits at the McDonalds game. The trio -- along with Allisha Gray, who sat out her senior season with a knee injury -- makes up the consensus top recruiting class in 2013. DeShields' East Team will include fellow Tar Heels recruit Stephanie Mavunga of Brownsburg (Ind.). They'll oppose future teammate Jessica Washington of Jenks (Okla.).

Even surrounded by the nation's elite, though, DeShields stands out. And it's not just her effortless quickness around the court, her smooth athleticism or her high-percentage shooting from long range (at Monday's POWERADE Jam Fest, DeShields made eight 3-pointers in a row during the 3-point shootout). It's her mature demeanor and unique professionalism off the court that surprises people.

"A lot of people call me weird," DeShields said. "They think the way I speak is weird. My coach would tell me, 'Diamond, you're really polished. You're kind of sophisticated off the court.' For some reason it catches people off-guard."

She's comfortable with being different, though. Her favorite movie right now is Wreck-It Ralph, because she thinks it teaches people they don't have to fit in all the time. She does not mind throwing her iPod back to the '80s, albeit only for an occasional break from rap or country.

"Going into my junior year, I finally felt like I had become Diamond instead of just being Delino DeShields' daughter," she said.

The on-court skills and accolades alone might be enough. But it's the sophisticated personality and beyond-her-years maturity that could lead North Carolina's program to new heights.

Maybe it's like Wreck-It Ralph's tagline. Maybe its time to get ready for a new kind of hero.