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DeShields' leadership grows to match incredible talent

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. After leading Norcross to its second straight Class AAAAA state title, Diamond DeShields is the Daily Post's player of the year.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. After leading Norcross to its second straight Class AAAAA state title, Diamond DeShields is the Daily Post's player of the year.

As a freshman at Norcross last season, Diamond DeShields burst onto Gwinnett County’s high school basketball scene with her physical skills, helping Norcross to its first Class AAAAA state championship.

This season, the 6-foot-1 Blue Devils’ sophomore wing burst onto the scene again.

Only this time it was her leadership skills that caught everyone’s eye — and made her the Daily Post’s Player of the Year.

ALL-COUNTY GIRLS BASKETBALL

• Player of the Year: Diamond DeShields, Norcross, Soph.

Led the Blue Devils to their second straight Class AAAAA state championship. Led the county in scoring at 20.9 ppg and added 5.1 rpg and 2.7 apg

• Coach of the Year: Ashley Phillips, Mill Creek

Took team to Class AAAAA Final Four despite losing key players from last year’s state quarterfinal team

First Team

• Grace Leah Baughn, Wesleyan, Sr.

13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.0 spg, .350 3-pt. FG, .748 FT

• Lexie Brown, North Gwinnett, Soph.

18.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 4.9 spg

• Andraya Carter, Buford, Jr.

14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 3.8 spg, .407 3-pt. FG, .777 FT, verbally committed to Tennessee

• Kaela Davis, Buford, Soph.

18.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, 2.7 spg, verbally committed to Tennessee

• Kristina Nelson, GAC, Soph.

15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg

Second Team

• Katie Carroll, Parkview, Sr.

16.4 ppg, signed with Belmont

• Dearica Hamby, Norcross, Sr.

9.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, signed with Wake Forest

• Jazmine Jackson, Brookwood, Sr.

13.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, signed with Auburn-Montgomery

• Katie Mallow, Brookwood, Sr.

12.8 ppg, 2.4 apg, signed with Appalachian State

• Holli Wilkins, Wesleyan, Jr.

12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.6 spg, .542 FG

Third Team

• Jasmine Carter, Mill Creek, Fr.

14.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.9 spg, .766 FT

• Shayla Cooper, Norcross, Soph.

8.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg

• Jordan Frazier, Wesleyan, Jr.

8.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 5.1 spg, .333 3-pt. FG

• Erika Joseph, Parkview, Jr.

10.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg

• Tina Odume, South Gwinnett, Sr.

14.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg

Simply put, she grew up.

“The kid’s not the same kid she was last year,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. “She’s a year older.

“The first time you see her play, you see that she’s special. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. But the thing I’m proudest of is how much she’s grown as a person and intellectually, her basketball IQ, setting her teammates up, her leadership in the locker room.”

DeShields definitely led by example, averaging 20.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assist per game in leading the Blue Devils to their second straight state title.

She came into the season knowing more would be expected of her, but that the person who would expect the most from her would be herself.

Fortunately, she said, she didn’t have to go through it alone, thanks to this year’s seniors — Jordan DeMercy, Nia Ladson, Emaree Cobb and Marietta transfer Dearica Hamby — who were able share some of the leadership burden.

It also helped that the Blue Devils had plenty of other talented players like Hamby, DeMercy, Patrice Butler, Tori Carter, Bri Williams and Shayla Cooper, who could contribute when opposing defense concentrated on trying to take away DeShields.

“Not only did I lean on them, but we leaned on each other,” DeShields said. “Honestly, if we didn’t have each other, it would’ve been a long season.”

DeShields’ development as a leader actually has been something of a lengthy process.

It helps that she comes from a household in which athletic achievement and leadership is a longtime tradition.

As many fans know, her father, Delino DeShields, had a 13-year playing career in Major League Baseball and is now a minor league manager.

However, she said she’s learned just as much from her mother, former University of Tennessee All-American heptathlete Tisha Milligan-DeShields.

“She’s definitely taught my brother (former Norcross football running back and now Houston Astros’ minor league infielder Delino DeShields Jr.) and I how to carry ourselves. We’re a reflection of her.

“The biggest thing (she stressed) was, ‘Whether you know it or not, people are watching.’ Especially now, since my brother’s been drafted.”

Coaches in the USA Basketball program were definitely watching her last season, which is why they invited her to try out for both the U16 and U18 teams last summer.

DeShields impressed them so much, they put her on the U18 as a 15-year-old playing alongside teammates three years her senior, most of whom were on their way to major Division I college programs.

It was an eye-opening experience for her.

“Just to name my teammates like (Connecticut’s) Bria Hartley and (Stanford’s) Chiney Ogwumike and (UConn’s) Stefanie Dolson (was overwhelming),” DeShields said. “I was the youngest one on the team. Being on that team was enough. I

wasn’t expecting to be the star. I wasn’t expecting to start. I honestly looked up to every single last one of my teammates. They definitely took me under their wings.

“My coaches were tougher on me. Some of the older girls, they were used to those kind of practices. I was usually the one getting yelled at. It all definitely shaped me into the person I am now.”

Hembree agrees the USA Basketball experience had a strong impact on DeShields’ growth and maturity this past season.

“She’s been around kids that are three or four years older than her, and she’s been around college coaches,” Hembree said. “I think the expectations for herself changed. She walked in the door (in the fall) with leadership and a maturity she didn’t have (before), and I think it grew over the year.”