Sky's DeShields eager to continue improving on defense
Go ahead and talk about Diamond DeShields.
As long as you're talking about her ability to defend at a high level in the WNBA, she could listen to you all day.
"I want to be in that conversation," DeShields, a rookie forward with the Chicago Sky, said Wednesday after the Sky posted a 93-80 win over the Atlanta Dream at Wintrust Arena in the South Loop.
DeShields, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 WNBA draft, wants to be in the same conversation as the best players in the league -- players such as Atlanta forward Angel McCoughtry, a perennial all-star who scored a career-high 39 points recently and was averaging 18.5 points per game heading into the Sky game.
But McCoughtry was held to just 6 points on 1-of-11 shooting against the Sky, and DeShields guarded McCoughtry for much of the game.
Start the chit chat, or make the full-out debates, about DeShields and her defense.
"I want to be talked about with players like Angel someday," said DeShields, who has always been a scorer (she's averaging 12.3 points per game, second-best on the team, and scored a game-high 23 points against Atlanta). Lately, she has put more effort into her defense. But she says that defense wasn't always her thing.
"Historically, I haven't been too well known for my defense," said DeShields. "I have athleticism and I have that ability to defend but I think knowing that if you don't defend (in the WNBA) you're going to get exposed, it's kind of lit a fire under me having to guard players like Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi and all those other great guards that I've had to defend.
"I don't want to get embarrassed. I don't want to be the rookie who has to learn those hard lessons from the vets. So I just go out there and just try my best."
DeShields got a valuable dress rehearsal for expectations in the WNBA last winter when she played professionally overseas. A native of Georgia, she started her college career at North Carolina before transferring to Tennessee. She passed on her senior season at Tennessee and played in Turkey instead.
Sky coach Amber Stocks followed DeShields closely in Turkey, and doesn't necessarily agree with DeShields' own perception of her defensive shortcomings of the past.
"Whenever I would express my interest in Diamond, the question people would always raise to me would be, 'Yeah, but what are you going to do about her defense,'" Stocks said. "And I would just smile. Her defense has been and will continue to be just fine. It's unfortunate that people often have the myth that players who score a lot of points don't go out and play defense.
"But Diamond (is) unquestionably (one) of our best defenders and (she) embraces that. When I saw her overseas and in watching all the film of her in college you look at her footwork and the intensity in which she fights through screens, there was no doubt that she is a good defender and takes pride in it."
Another source of pride for DeShields is her family and background. She was meant to be a professional athlete.
Her mother Tisha was an all-America heptathlete at Tennessee, her father Delino played 13 years of professional baseball in the Major Leagues and her brother Delino Jr. is an outfielder for the Texas Rangers.
But, as far as conversations go, DeShields doesn't like to get caught up in talking about her impressive bloodlines.
She has a more humble approach. She gives credit for her successes elsewhere.
"All season long, my teammates have been the reason why I've been able to ease into (her rookie season) and go into it confidently," DeShields said. "This is the best level of basketball. You want to be respected in this league."
That kind of respect should get DeShields into the most important WNBA conversations.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw