Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Norcross' Diamond DeShields (30) is fouled by Redan's MacKenzie Dalrymple (10) during Friday's Class AAAAA state championship game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. DeShields finished with 17 points on the night.
DULUTH -- The buzz started down press row less than two minutes into the Norcross girls basketball team's Class AAAAA semifinal game Thursday.
Kaela Davis already had scored two quick, acrobatic baskets and two people who hadn't seen Norcross play came to ask me, "She's a freshman?," as if the tournament roster was incorrect. Yes, I assured them. And there's another superstar freshman, too.
Within a few minutes, they got to see a few highlight plays from fellow ninth-grader Diamond DeShields. Blessed with loads of talent, they were on display again Friday night as the Blue Devils beat Redan 76-63 for their first state title in girls basketball.
The two freshmen were asked to carry a heavy load typically reserved for older players -- DeShields is just days past her 15th birthday and Davis doesn't turn 15 until Monday -- and they delivered time and again.
"We rely on Kaela and Diamond and (senior) Briana (Jordan) to take 90 percent of out shots, to score 90 percent of our points and whatever we get from everyone else is gravy," Norcross assistant coach Jay Nebel said. "To put that kind of pressure on two 14-year-olds and have them respond the way they have is pretty unbelievable."
They made believers out of everyone who saw them play this week. Together they won the prestigious AAAAA championship as freshmen, something not even the great Maya Moore of Collins Hill could pull off in her first high school season.
During the critical moments, Davis and DeShields, like their Norcross teammates, maintained their poise while it was Redan's upperclassmen that suffered on-the-court breakdowns. They showed the composure built up from years of playing basketball, likely inherited from their pro athlete fathers (Davis' father is former NBAer Antonio Davis; DeShields' dad is former MLBer Delino DeShields).
Davis scored a team-high 21 points in the final, giving her team a second reliable ballhandler along with Jordan. DeShields had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but equally big were the three charges she absorbed, the last with 3:09 left as Norcross began to pull away.
They played a part, either in scoring or assisting, 10 of Norcross' 11 first-half baskets.
They did all that as freshmen. Just imagine what they can do together the next three seasons. Expect more state titles, maybe even matching Moore's Collins Hill squad with a mythical high school national crown.
"We try not to look too far ahead," DeShields said. "We've got a lot of time left here at Norcross. We're just taking it one step at a time."
Nebel won three titles as a Collins Hill assistant, the last while working with the heralded Moore, now a national women's hoops star at Connecticut. There's a good chance he and head coach Angie Hembree will be able to add some more hardware the next few seasons, too.
"Of course you think about (the future)," Nebel said. "But we have them day to day in practice and we can see that they have room to grow, how they can get better. But we're blessed to have them because they're so grounded, they don't let us look too far ahead."
Though it's tempting to look ahead, it's best to let the two teenagers enjoy their fun. They did that Friday night, playing with a youthful joy and sporting giant grins as evidence.
Yes, they are champions. And yes, they are freshmen.
"I can't really put it into words how it feels (to win state)," Davis said. "It's just pure excitement. You want to go crazy. It's just such a great feeling."
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays.