Diamond DeShields seeks right fit

Diamond DeShields

Diamond DeShields, the national freshman of the year, has narrowed her list of schools to three and expects to make a decision soon. InsideTennessee talked exclusively with the dynamic forward. Go inside for the latest recruiting news.

Diamond DeShields, with the wisdom of one year behind her, realizes she got caught up in the whirlwind of recruiting. The 6-2 superstar from Norcross High School in Georgia committed two years ago to North Carolina – along with three other recruits on the same day – and went on to have an outstanding freshman season for the Tar Heels in 2013-14.

But she soon realized that the fit wasn't right for her in Chapel Hill. DeShields stayed for the season, led North Carolina to the Elite Eight and then announced last month that she would transfer.

DeShields, a prized recruit in the Class of 2013, has made visits this spring to Georgia and Tennessee. She will take a trip to South Carolina this weekend and then make a decision.

"I am going to finish taking my visits and then it shouldn't be too long," DeShields said. "My last visit this weekend is to South Carolina and then a decision should come soon after."

DeShields intentionally kept the list short because she has been through the recruiting wringer already.

"I tried not to, I guess you could say, court a lot of other schools, because I've been recruited," she said. "I am trying to make it as simple as possible, and those are the three schools that I've really got my eye on."

She wants to enroll in summer school, likely a July session, so DeShields knows the clock is ticking, but she also wants to get it right the second time around.

"I am just focused on making it right and not making any mistakes," she said. "I just want to evaluate the situation and to make the decision that is best for me."

DeShields was exasperated by speculation, coming from some corners of the Tar Heel media and online message boards, that she was bound for Knoxville. One report called it a "done deal" before DeShields had even left Chapel Hill. She also bristled at allegations that she had contact with the Lady Vols before her release.

"If I was for sure, I would have made my decision by now," she said. "All of the speculation is not true. I am praying a lot and talking a lot to my mom, and we are trying to make sure what is really best for me and where I will be happy at."

The allure of Tennessee is well established, and the Lady Vols had no need to make any contact until allowed and every reason to wait.

DeShields' mother, Tisha DeShields, was an All-American track star for the Lady Vols and remains a diehard Tennessee fan. Her daughter, while in high school, has been a frequent visitor to campus for basketball and football games.

DeShields completed her exams at North Carolina, received her release and then made a trip to Knoxville with her mother to meet with coach Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood, who she already knew, and new staff members Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law.

"For people to say that about me is kind of interesting," DeShields said. "But, at the same time, people are going to say what they have to say. That comes with the territory. Everybody wants to know.

"But I am just an average kid. This is my life. I don't think it's anything stressful. I am just trying to grow up and be the best young woman that I can be. And this is a part of that process. College is very important to me."

DeShields, who was heavily recruited by Tennessee out of high school, made an unofficial visit to Knoxville in the fall of 2011, during what ultimately turned out to be Pat Summitt's final season.

"Pat was still the active head coach, and Daedra Charles was there and Mickie DeMoss and Dean, of course," DeShields. "I had to get to know new faces (on the last trip) and adjust to Holly being the head coach now.

"Holly is doing a great job up there, and I am really happy for her. Holly and I have established a great relationship from when I was in high school, so it was good to finally speak to her. She's learned from the greatest coach ever."

The uncertainty of Summitt's future was a factor in DeShields not picking Tennessee out of high school, but she has since reevaluated that decision.

"I have always loved the people there, and I have always loved the tradition there, and the basketball culture that they have built," DeShields said. "When I got my release, I had to think back to what was familiar to me and what are the things that I really want to accomplish and where can I accomplish those things at."

Her other two finalists also make sense. Georgia is the home state school, and South Carolina is a team to be reckoned with now in the SEC.

"You've got Andy Landers at UGA," she said. "He is a very high-profile coach, high-profile program, very successful. And then you've got Dawn Staley, who just got the number one recruiting class in the country. Anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that they are going to make a deep run in the tournament next season.

"Wherever I go, I am looking to compete. I want to work, and I want to learn. I can get that at all three of those schools. It's just a matter of which one I want to be at."

Tisha DeShields' preference is well-known – when she is on campus, she is decked out in orange head to toe – but Diamond's mother is letting her daughter decide.

"Mom is mom," DeShields said. "She's not a scout. She's not a recruiter. She lets me evaluate every situation on my own. She doesn't say much. I understand where her heart is.

"Everyone knows where her heart is, but at the end of the day, she wants me to be happy, and she will support me. That is just what she does."

Since DeShields was released from North Carolina, she will be on scholarship at her new school, but she has to sit out one season by NCAA rules. She was banged up last season and thinks the rest from game competition will be beneficial.

"I will be able to recover from my injuries and get stronger and better and get ready. I played hurt all year," DeShields said. "I am looking forward to sitting out actually. I am going to do nothing but learn, study, grow and develop and gain the trust of my teammates.

"That way when I step back on the court, there will be a great relationship and great chemistry already established. I am going to get my lower body stronger, and I am going to get 10 times better. You'll see a whole new player when I step back on the court."

She averaged 18.0 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season, while earning national freshman honors. An improved DeShields will be a game changer at her selected program.

DeShields is in excellent academic standing and will focus on classwork during the down time, too. Her mother left Tennessee early before graduation, and her father, Delino DeShields, a Major League Baseball star, was drafted out of high school, as was her brother, Delino DeShields Jr., a standout in the Houston Astros organization.

"I will probably be the first in my family to graduate," she said. "My family is going to want me to go wherever I can be successful and happy."

While DeShields is looking forward to some off time, it is not as if she won't be on the court. She can practice and participate in conditioning and workout sessions as soon as she enrolls at her chosen school.

In fact, she called InsideTennessee late Monday evening after a lengthy basketball session and weight room workout that included top Class of 2015 Te'a Cooper, a point guard from Power Springs, Ga., and current Lady Vol Andraya Carter, who is back in her home state for a few weeks before returning to campus.

Cooper, who de-committed from North Carolina a year ago, is considering Tennessee. She also has South Carolina, Georgia, Pitt and North Carolina on her list. Speculation has placed the pair together, but both say they will decide on their own.

"At this point Te'a and I just train together," DeShields said. "Our friendship is deeper than basketball. Whatever she decides is independent of what I am doing. That would be silly to go to school based on someone else, because what fits me might not necessarily fit her.

"If we just so happen to have interest in the same things, then that can happen on its own. But I don't think I have much of an influence on where she is going. She is very smart, and she is not going to let any one person influence anything that she does. It doesn't matter who it is."

DeShields just turned 19 last March. Looking back at the 17-year-old that committed to North Carolina in 2012, DeShields realized she emphasized the wrong things. This was her answer when asked what she learned from that process.

"The most important thing that I have learned is that I think it has more to do with relationships, being able to speak and be heard and be listened to," DeShields said. "I just think that it's going to be really important the relationship that I have with every coach and every player at whatever college I decide to go to.

"Because these are the people that you spend most of your day with, and I think relationships are going to be very important to me and comfort. I am not saying I did not have that at North Carolina, but that is what is going to be really important for me at this point.

"Not the gear. The shoes. The locker room. That stuff doesn't matter to me anymore. I don't want people telling me that I can be Michael Jordan. I want what's real.

"I want what can't be touched. I want what's not tangible. I want emotion. I want love and happiness and all of those things that can't be touched."

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