Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields has been named the Daily Post's girls basketball Player of the Year. DeShields has won 3 state championships with the Blue Devils.
NORCROSS -- Few Gwinnett County high school basketball players have ever generated the kind of notoriety that Diamond DeShields had coming into the 2012-13 season.
And few people understand better than the 6-foot-2 senior that with such high visibility and attention comes equally high expectations and responsibility.
"It's not a burden. It's all a blessing," said DeShields, the Daily Post's Girls Player of the Year for the third straight year. "At the end of the day, you play basketball to be the best at it. When you're the best at something, attention is something that comes with it. If I want to excel in this sport, I've got to learn to appreciate these type of things, and I do appreciate them."
Everyone around the Norcross program has come to appreciate everything DeShields has brought to the Blue Devils throughout her career, but few more than coach Angie Hembree.
The veteran coach has seen one other player who has made the kind of impact DeShields has, and to whom she is inevitably compared.
Like Maya Moore did her senior season at Collins Hill, DeShields earned high school basketball's highest honor by being named the national Naismith Prep Player of the Year, and was perhaps the nation's top college recruit, choosing North Carolina over countless other suitors.
And like Moore, Hembree saw the same maturity Moore displayed in handling all the attention in DeShields, though she admits that maturity developed at different rates.
"I've often said that Maya was the most mature high school age player I've ever seen," Hembree said. "She was high school age, but she was really 26 spiritually and emotionally from the ninth grade on. Diamond is such an athlete, and she's grown and matured (over the years) to really blossom. I've told her I don't think she's played her best basketball yet, but athletically, she's in another league.
"I think (DeShields) was really mature and comfortable with who she is this year. She's come a long way as far as leadership among her peers (this season). I've been truly blessed to have them both. I don't take that lightly."
There's nothing to take lightly about DeShields, who did a little of everything for the Blue Devils (28-5), averaging 23.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.7 steals and 0.8 blocked shots per game in helping them to the Class AAAAAA state championship.
It closed out a four-year high school career in which DeShields was a part of three Norcross state titles and finished as Gwinnett's No. 5 all-time leading scorer with 2,324 career points.
But it is this year's title that meant the most to DeShields and her teammates, especially regaining it after being beaten by McEachern in the state semifinals a year ago.
That competitive attitude was something Hembree was pleased to see.
"That meant everything to her, which meant a lot to me," Hembree said. "That McEachern loss hit them all hard. I know they talked about it, and I think (DeShields' career) ended exactly like she would've written it. The same goes for the other seniors like Shayla (Cooper) and Javonne (Stanfield)."
The fact that the title and the awards came during a season in which Georgia featured some of the nation's highest-profile high schools seniors -- including several from Gwinnett County, like North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown -- made them all the more satisfying for DeShields.
"In some states, you've got one girl who's an All-American, and there's nobody else," DeShields said. (In Georgia) we have three (DeShields, Brown and former Buford standout Kaela Davis). You don't want to get shut down by another great player. That's the time to showcase your talents -- when you're going against another All-American. That's when you've got to show your skills off. Everyone knows you can do it against someone who's in 10th grade and isn't really serious about basketball. But Lexie's a great player. When we had those matchups, it would kind of fire me up a little.
"The competition made it fun -- to actually know that there's someone you can compete against. A lot of states have one player who's the best player to ever come through entire state ever. Here, there's the present and then the past and who's also been great. The comparison to Maya Moore, there's been (Norcross grad) Briana Jordan and (former Southwest DeKalb standout) Kayla Lewis -- all those girls have come out of Georgia, and they're all at (Division) I schools."
While it seems like it was yesterday when DeShields burst upon the scene in helping the Blue Devils to their first title as a freshman, her career moves to the next level when she reports to North Carolina over the summer.
It's a transition she admits will be somewhat bittersweet.
"I can't even say it's gone by quickly because I can specifically remember every moment that I've had in my high school career up until now," DeShields said. "I guess it's because I've done things in ninth grade that most ninth-graders have never done. My high school career has been long and it's been great. But now that I'm officially done playing basketball here at Norcross, I can look forward going up (to North Carolina) with my new family and my new coaches and building new relationships, but knowing that I still have that foundation here that still loves me."