Diamond DeShields chats with Inside Tennessee

Diamond DeShields turned the week of Holly Warlick's birthday into the best present ever, as the national freshman of the year inked her signature to become a Lady Vol. Go inside with InsideTennessee for an exclusive interview with DeShields.

Diamond DeShields put her signature on scholarship papers in the Tennessee Lady Vols office and became a signature recruit for Holly Warlick. The national freshman of the year and transfer from North Carolina made it public Thursday, though her decision had been made more than a week ago.

DeShields kept it quiet until she traveled to Knoxville to sign her name and make it official. She can definitely keep a secret.

"And Holly can, too," DeShields said.

She didn't want a press event, announcement or fanfare. DeShields drove to Knoxville today with her mother, Tisha DeShields, to take care of paperwork, get ready to enroll and visit with the staff and team.

"I feel like the lights and the cameras are for a celebration, and that is for a high school celebration," Diamond DeShields said. "You are celebrating going to college. I didn't feel like I needed to stick my chest out and be boastful with this process, because this is my life at this point, and I am taking it very seriously."

Tennessee was a finalist for DeShields when she was entering her senior year of high school in Norcross, Ga., but she opted for North Carolina, along with three other recruits who all committed on the same day. DeShields had second thoughts later, but she opted to play her rookie year of college and make a decision afterwards. Last April, DeShields announced that she intended to transfer.

Her three finalists were Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, but the Lady Vols emerged quickly as the front-runner, in part because DeShields had been a fan of the Lady Vols since childhood. She also had been heavily recruited by Tennessee in high school, so a relationship with Warlick already was in place.

"I had some good schools to pick from, but my vision was clear here," DeShields said. "The vision of being here actually has been a part of my entire life. I always dreamed of playing at Tennessee, and I had a very successful detour at North Carolina, but I feel like I'm back on track.

"I am just thankful for Holly and everybody for giving me the opportunity, and I am going to make the best of it."

DeShields' has deep orange roots in Tennessee, as her mother Tisha Milligan DeShields was an All-American heptathlete in 1991.

"I have been a Tennessee fan since I was born," Diamond DeShields said. "I was born into it. My mom's track teammates were always there. They basically helped raise me. They ingrained my memories with orange and baby blue and Tennessee Lady Vols.

"Even before I knew I wanted to be a basketball player, I knew I wanted to be a Lady Volunteer. I went to a private school and every time we were out of uniform, I wore my Tennessee sweatshirt or my orange shoes or something Tennessee. It was something I always wanted to be a part of."

Tisha Milligan's name is etched on the wall outside the football complex of Tennessee All-Americans, and it is likely that her daughter will join her there before her Lady Vol career is over. DeShields has paternal ties to sports, too, as her father, Delino DeShields was a Major League Baseball player for 13 seasons.

Her list of honors after her rookie season at North Carolina included Full Court, espnW and U.S. Basketball Writers Association National Freshman of the Year honors; honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press and Full Court; Full Court's Freshman All-America First Team; 2014 ACC Rookie of the Year; All-ACC First Team; ACC All-Freshman Team; and All-ACC Tournament Team.

Tennessee fans will have to wait a year, though, to see DeShields on the court in a game. As a transfer, she will sit out the 2014-15 season – DeShields has said she played hurt last season and looks forward to some rest – and then will have three years of eligibility remaining.

DeShields' recruitment in high school coincided with the announcement by Pat Summitt that she had early onset dementia. Warlick was named head coach after the season ended, but DeShields selected North Carolina less than two months later and placed a call to Warlick to tell her before making the commitment public in 2012.

"I believe that God led me there for a reason," DeShields said. "I grew a lot at North Carolina. I found clarity, and I appreciate everything that North Carolina did for me.

"I had a great experience, but I feel like I am where I am supposed to be at this point, and I am very excited and very happy to be here with Holly."

The way Tennessee recruits is one of the reasons the Lady Vols landed DeShields and, a week ago, Te'a Cooper, an elite guard in the Class of 2015 from Powder Springs, Ga.

Cooper committed to North Carolina as an eighth-grader but reopened her recruitment last summer because of roster and coaching changes for the Tar Heels. Tennessee had not recruited Cooper because she had been a longtime commit for North Carolina, but the Lady Vols started when she reopened the process. Likewise, the Lady Vols stopped recruiting DeShields two years ago when she made the verbal to North Carolina.

That ethical approach registers – both with the players and their families, and it didn't take long for the Lady Vols to establish a strong foundation with Cooper and then, two months ago, renew acquaintances with DeShields.

When Warlick signed Mercedes Russell, the top recruit in the Class of 2013, the head coach immediately established that she could recruit in the post-Pat Summitt era. The signing of DeShields shows that Warlick can reel in a must-have recruit.

"She's experienced, athletic and passionate, and she has a great knowledge of the game. Diamond has been highly successful at every level of basketball, and her impact on our program will be immediate," Warlick said.

That was Warlick's official statement via the Lady Vols, and it is accurate. Even though DeShields has to sit out a season, she can lure even more top talent to Tennessee to play with her. She also will immediately be in Knoxville.

DeShields will enroll for the second summer session and be on campus in July.

"I am getting the ball rolling," DeShields said. "I am extremely excited to grow as a player and grow as a person. I look to be more involved in the community. I really want to insinuate myself into this society in Knoxville. I think it will be good for me to interact with the fans and get to know them.

"I will be working hard behind the scenes so that when I step on the court … It's going to be good. It's going to be good."

Tisha DeShields is a frequent visitor to campus, especially in the fall for football games, an event that often doubles as a reunion with her track teammates. Needless to say, she is happy with her daughter's second college decision.

"I think she is still kind of restraining herself, but I really think she wants to do backflips," Diamond DeShields said. "I know a lot of people are saying, ‘This is where I wanted you to go from day one, but I didn't want to tell you that. I wanted it to be 100 percent your decision.'

"So a lot of people saw the same vision that I saw for myself, and I believe a lot of people are supporting me and a lot of people are behind me."

Tisha DeShields let Diamond make her own decision and two summers ago hosted a Tar Heel-blue themed party for her daughter.

"As a parent, I needed to support her, even though I joked with her that I was going to buy her orange briefs to wear underneath her uniform," Tisha DeShields said. "Now, I just feel like she's in the right place. I feel like she's found her place, on ‘The Summitt.' "

Warlick, who turned 56 on Wednesday, probably also wanted to do backflips on Thursday.

"She was extremely happy," DeShields said. "Before I signed, she took my hand and did an imaginary-like sign across the form. We made light of the situation.

"She lost me once, and she was going to make sure it wasn't going to happen again."

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