NEW YORK – While many WNBA draftees will soon head to the city of the team that selected them, Diamond DeShields has other plans. About 16 hours after being drafted No. 3 overall by the Chicago Sky on Thursday in WNBA Draft 2018, DeShields will be on a flight back to Turkey where she continues a unique basketball journey.
DeShields had a chance to be the top pick in last year’s WNBA Draft. A transfer who started her career at North Carolina, DeShields initially announced her desire to return for her senior year at Tennessee, only to renounce her eligibility and turn pro shortly after. It was too late to enter the WNBA in 2017, however, and she headed overseas to begin her professional career.
Even in the midst of a stellar season in Turkey – she’s averaging 16.5 points for Cukurova – her alternative path to the WNBA drew criticism heading into Thursday’s draft.
“I think a negative could be just an uncertainty with Diamond,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said on a conference call with media on April 6. “Because she started at one school, transferred to another. It seemed like she was coming back, and I think most people were surprised she decided not to play. … I think there’s a little bit of what exactly are we getting with Diamond DeShields?”
But DeShields had been so dominant at Tennessee, she was still projected to be a lottery selection. Plus, Sky head coach and GM Amber Stocks had visited Turkey to watch her play with Cukurova. Stocks also happens to be the sister of DeShields’ trainer.
A 6-foot-1 guard, DeShields has been competing against WNBA-level talent overseas as she prepares for her rookie season. Indiana’s Erlana Larkins is her teammate in Turkey, while future Sky teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley have been among her opponents.
But even more important, this period is about personal growth.
“Being overseas gave me that solitude of being by myself for these past few months. I can only describe it as an enlightenment period for me in my life,” DeShields told WNBA.com. “I feel like I’ve grown to love everything about myself and worried so much less about all the noise that can surround you. I haven’t done an interview in like a year, and that’s completely by choice.
“I wanted to go and have that silence so that I could really come into a space of peace and contentment with my life. Because leading up to that point, I was sad. I wasn’t really having a good time, and I felt like being overseas kind of gave that back to me, gave that feeling of joy and happiness and peace back to me.”
While she says the overseas experience is just what she needed after leaving school, DeShields’ season in Europe has been far from easy. The language barrier with teammates makes life on the court difficult, and her family had to cancel its Thanksgiving trip to Turkey because of the visa ban.
Not too long after she arrived there, a bomb exploded near her apartment.
“She called us, and it was the middle of the night for us,” her brother, D’Angelo DeShields, said at Thursday’s draft. “And she said, ‘There was a bomb outside. I just want to tell you guys I love you.’ And you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“You hear about stuff like that happening, but for somebody you know to be there, it’s scary,” added her sister, Denim DeShields.
This week in New York, Diamond’s family was together for the first time in several months. Because she’s been gone for so long, Thursday was a special night for family and close friends in attendance, which included NFL star and fellow Tennessee product Alvin Kamara.
Diamond’s father, Delino, was also a professional athlete. The former MLB star is the one who influenced her to take a leap of faith and go on her own path this past year.
“He’s always been an individual, even back when he was playing,” Diamond said. “He never follows the crowd or the status quo. He’s always pushing for better and for more, even if it’s not necessarily agreed upon by the majority of the people. He doesn’t care. He does things his way and that is an attribute that I’ve taken away most from my dad. Just like if you believe in something, if you feel some way, don’t let anyone suppress that.”
When her name was called on Thursday, Delino had a special message for his daughter.
“He said welcome to the club. I guess he meant the club of first-rounders in our family,” Diamond said, referring to her brother, Delino Jr., who is a current MLB player. “He had kind of been joking with me about it, but I have the bragging rights since I was the highest pick out of the three of us. So I’m happy about that.”
A former softball player herself, DeShields is excited to attend Cubs games during her time in Chicago, as her father spent part of his career with the team. She’s familiar with the city and couldn’t have asked for a better situation to begin her WNBA journey.
The Sky also added UConn’s Gabby Williams with the No. 4 overall pick on Thursday. Their pair of lottery picks will join a core that produced two All-Stars last year – Quigley and Stefanie Dolson – and the league’s assists leader in Vandersloot. Alaina Coates, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, is set to make her WNBA debut after missing last season due to injury.
All in all, DeShields is thrilled Chicago will be her destination when she arrives back in the states.
“I’m happy with where I’m going to be,” she said. “I already have a relationship with the head coach. I’m looking forward to working with her, and I’ve also gotten to know Gabby. I think I have a pretty good feel for them, and they have a pretty good feel for me.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out and learning from those guys, and building that cohesiveness that will lead to a lot of success in Chicago.”