Transcendent Talent

In less than 24 hours, Diamond DeShields became the most decorated UNC signee of all time.

A day after being named the WBCA's Prep Player of the Year, the Naismith committee announced on Tuesday that DeShields is its 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year.

Earlier this month, DeShields was also selected to the WBCA and McDonald's High School All-America games.

DeShields, a native of Norcross, Ga., is the first ACC women's signee and just second UNC basketball signee (Raymond Felton, 2002) to be named Naismith Prep Player of the Year since its inception in 1987.

She beat out finalists Mercedes Russell, a Tennessee signee, and Rebecca Greenwell, a Duke signee.

"I'm so thankful that I'm being recognized as one of the best players in the country," said DeShields, Fullcourt.com's No. 1 player in the class of 2013. "I think it's a credit to all the hard work I've put in the last four years. I feel deserving of it, but I also feel a couple of other players, like Rebecca (Greenwell) and Mercedes (Russell) were deserving too, they're all great players."

DeShields is averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, 4.5 steals and 3.8 assists per game for Norcross High School.

A 6-3 wing, DeShields was named the Georgia Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2011 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's 2012 Player of the Year. She's also a three-time USA gold medalist (U17, U18 and U19) and was MVP of the U17 tournament in 2012.

"I reflected with my coach today about all that I've been through," she said. "I really wouldn't be here without my team at Norcross. This is really a team award for all my teammates."

***

Trailblazing is in DeShields's blood. Her athletic pedigree is second to none.

Her mother, Tisha, was an All-American track star at Tennessee, father, Delino, a 13-year MLB veteran, and older brother, Delino Jr., a first round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2010.

That's why her name is mentioned, even if softly, next to superstars like Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.

Her future head coach, UNC's Sylvia Hatchell, isn't the first – or likely last – to say she reminds of one of basketballs all-time greats.

"Lots of people have compared her to a Michael Jordan type," Hatchell said. "She can do it all. I haven't had anyone that could do everything at such an extremely high level like she does – she can dunk and play any position on the floor."

Omar Cooper, DeShields's AAU coach and father of 2015 UNC commitment Te'a Cooper, has worked with Diamond since sixth grade.

"The first time I saw her, I said ‘this kid will be No. 1 in the country,'" Cooper said. "The one ability she has that really stands out to me, she's an incredible athlete. When you have the athleticism she has, you're going to get steals and blocks, and do things other players just can't do."

The whispered screams of expectation surround DeShields constantly because she has the potential to not just change women's basketball at North Carolina.

She has the potential to change women's basketball.

It doesn't scare her though. In fact, DeShields sees being linked to some of the most transcendent talents of all-time as validation of her hard work.

"To be mentioned in the same sentence as some of those people is a privilege, it means I'm clearly doing something right," she said. "I know for a fact that I can be great and I know what I'm capable of doing. "Those comparisons aren't frightening, they make me happy."

"You hear Michael Jordan comparisons - I love that comparison, I think that's awesome," she continued. "On the women's side, why wouldn't I like having my game compared to a versatile player like Maya Moore?"

***

Athletes at the pinnacle of their sport often have an insatiable appetite for winning. They live in a world of black and white. Winning means success and losing means failure – there's no middle ground.

Eight-year-old DeShields was no different.

At a local recreation center, she signed up to play on one of several AAU teams in the area. She ended up playing for a 12-and-under team that was comprised mostly of girls three or four years older.

They lost every single game and DeShields quit the team, vowing to never play basketball again because of the bitter taste of losing.

Where did her competitive nature come from?

"It's natural, just something I've always had," she said. "I think the rest of it came from watching my brother's traveling baseball team play when I was growing up. I was always supporting them and celebrating wins with them."

"Obviously, because of my dad and then my brother, I always wanted to be a baseball player," she continued. "It was my passion."

After the losing experience in basketball, DeShields needed to scratch her competitive itch. So, she went to the tennis court and was mentored by Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

She trained in Florida with Williams and was well on her way to becoming one of America's best young players.

"I was getting a lot of buzz as a tennis player at the time," said DeShields. "I took it very seriously and was close to making it my full-time sport."

Four years after quitting her local AAU team, DeShields was persuaded to give basketball one more try. This time her team excelled, rarely losing, and DeShields was hooked.

"I enjoyed playing with those girls so much," DeShields said. "When I was playing tennis, it was just me on the court and I was looking forward to winning by myself. (Coming back to basketball) opened my eyes to the fact that teamwork is better."

"When we did lose games, it made me appreciate losing because all of us did it together instead of me on my own," she continued. "Before I started playing tennis, when I lost a basketball game I absolutely hated it. I didn't like it. When I came back, I learned to appreciate the distribution of a loss and the shared struggle it brings."

While she appreciates losing, it's not something DeShields has done a lot of in her high school career.

In three seasons at Norcross, she's led the Blue Devils to two state 5A championships, four straight seasons with 25 or more wins and an overall 109-18 record. After games, DeShields is often approached by media for interviews and asked for autographs by fans.

All the things she's done – growing up the daughter of a professional baseball player and track star, following her older brother around the country, quitting basketball, excelling at tennis and learning the value of failure – have been tools to help DeShields eventually carry the women's game into living rooms, gyms and television sets it's never seen before.

"I can't say that I feel like an ambassador of the game, but I want to be seen as one," she said. "I want to one day be remembered as someone who changed the game. I want to have my own name in the history of women's athletics – I just want to leave a legacy and be a legend."

The next chapter of her legacy will be forged in Chapel Hill as she, and one of the best incoming classes in UNC history, seek to bring the women's basketball program its second national championship. DeShields was drawn to the school, among other things, by the coaching staff's overt affection for it.

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"Coach (Sylvia) Hatchell and Coach Tracey Williams-Johnson, all of the coaching staff, they have a genuine love for North Carolina," said DeShields. "The pride they take in wearing the Carolina Blue is something I've never seen. I'm very excited to be a part of the family and I'm going to do all I can to help put Carolina back on top." Though she's been asked to help carry the weight of her family's athletic accomplishments, a title-hungry fan base and the women's game as a whole on her shoulders, DeShields said she doesn't feel any pressure.

"I genuinely love what I do," she said. "I'm going to keep playing basketball and keep doing it to the best of my abilities. It's not pressure when you're doing something you love."

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