By David Bradford, for VFL Insider
After each Tennessee Lady Vol loss over the past two seasons – and there’s been a number of them, 26 to be exact – up to the podium walked Diamond DeShields, the face of women college basketball’s most iconic program.
Knoxville has had many iconic figures when it comes to women’s basketball over the years. Strong leaders such as Pat Summitt, Tamika Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Candace Parker helped turn Thompson-Boling Arena into the Mecca of its sport. But DeShields – instead of providing a level of optimism after a tough loss – provided the postgame presser with a tone that it seem like the end of the world was just around the corner.
It didn’t come as a surprise, however. It carried over from the game, where DeShields would often flail her arms of aim a look of disgust at anything if the game wasn’t going her way. Meanwhile, co-stars Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared would simply move on to the next play after each mistake.
Now, DeShields is taking her talents to the WNBA, but not under normal circumstances. She decided to forgo the WNBA Draft despite being the unanimous No. 1 overall pick. However, back on April 1, she posted a lengthy, heartfelt Instagram post announcing a return to Tennessee, starting with the phrase “For What It’s Worth.”
Did this post signal a change in the redshirt senior’s maturity?
That was the implication, but apparently, it wasn’t worth anything, because only months after that post, DeShields left the program high and dry.
The Lady Vol backcourt has been dealt blow after blow since April. They lost Alexa Middleton, an understandable move considering her inevitable tumble down the depth chart. Then, inexplicably, Te’a Cooper opted to transfer to South Carolina, the defending champions. DeShields was the next domino to fall.
That wasn’t a coincidence, by the way. Cooper was reportedly involved in an altercation with Nared, and there’s speculation that the altercation stemmed from drama involving DeShields.
Tennessee is as unstable as its ever been, which is saying a lot given how the Holly Warlick era has panned out. But the departure of DeShields is a resounding positive for the program, not a negative.
Yes, the Lady Vols lose one of the nation’s premier talents. As a ball-handler, DeShields is elite. As a slasher into the lane, DeShields is lethal. As a defender, DeShields is versatile. She never was the most consistent outside shooter, but when she found her stroke, Tennessee was practically unstoppable. She fell victim to plenty of mental gaffes, but DeShields always had the ability to play point guard and orchestrate a well-oiled offensive machine.
However, talent only holds so much water. Eventually, that talent must yield results in the win-loss column, and that wasn’t happening in DeShields’ case. Because while most players would smile all the damn time if they had her level of talent, DeShields never appeared to fully utilize her abilities. Part of that was due to her long history with injuries, but her attitude on and off the court played a pivotal role in her shortcomings.
In sports, there’s a cliché attached to teams who experience dynastic success: The Patriot Way, The UConn Way, etc.
The mantra is a cliché because it’s normally true. When we observe modern sports dynasties – New England, UConn, Alabama, Golden State – there are common themes: Fantastic head coaching (Belichick, Geno, Saban, Kerr) and superstar players who not only perform at a high level on the court, but are selfless, remain positive in dire situations, and represent their respective brands in positive manners.
This is known as the (insert any dynasty here) Way.
DeShields was the face of the Lady Vols’ worst stretch in program’s iconic history, and instead of handling it with grace and persistence, she avoided what it meant to be a Lady Vol and showed a lack of class. She ran from the program because her friends were gone, just like she ran to North Carolina because her friends were there.
I’m not critiquing DeShields’ personal choices, but when you decide to attend the University of Tennessee, the expectations are different. This isn’t a place that’s welcoming of bold personalities who don’t follow the Lady Vol Way. This isn’t a place where the fans are patient. After 18 Final Four appearances, 8 championships, and over 1,000 wins during the Pat Summitt era, failure is never an option.
Luckily for Warlick – who has her issues as well – the presence that brought so many distracting questions is gone. Outsiders speculative of her relationship with the star guard will disappear. With the top-ranked recruiting class arriving in Knoxville this fall, the Lady Vols have a fresh start in the chemistry department.
Finally, Warlick can breathe again. And maybe DeShields can too under a much smaller microscope in the WNBA, because she clearly couldn’t handle being a Lady Vol.