KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee guard Diamond DeShields says she played much of her freshman season at North Carolina knowing there was a good chance she’d transfer afterward.
”It was pretty early on I really knew that, but I didn’t let that stop me,” said DeShields, who did not say specifically why she wanted to leave Chapel Hill. ”I didn’t let that make me become less of a player or less of a teammate. I kind of just used that to play harder and to know, hey, if I’m not going to be here (in the future), I don’t want my team or these fans to think that I just gave out.
”I gave it everything I had. I played through my injuries. I played through all the pain, physically and mentally. I’m proud of that.”
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DeShields surprisingly announced in April that she was transferring.
She set an Atlantic Coast Conference freshman record with 648 points and led North Carolina to a 27-10 record and NCAA regional final appearance in her lone season with the Tar Heels.
The 6-foot-1 guard from Norcross, Georgia, is sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
But she seems very comfortable in her new surroundings at a place where if not for coach Pat Summitt’s illness and departure, she might have been from the beginning.
DeShields, whose mother was an All-America heptathlete at Tennessee, grew up a ”die-hard” fan of the Lady Vols. DeShields said the Summitt news played a factor in her decision to sign elsewhere out of high school.
Summitt, who led Tennessee to eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances, revealed in August 2011 that she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Summitt stepped down as Tennessee’s coach in April 2012, though she remains on staff as head coach emeritus.
”Everything was just changing,” DeShields said. ”I was just so unsure. I knew this was where I wanted to play at, but I just didn’t know what to expect. I’m not going to blame it on the staff change, but that was a big part of it, having to deal with not being able to be coached by Pat, which was my dream.”
DeShields said even a Final Four appearance wouldn’t have caused her to change her mind about transferring.
”North Carolina’s a great place to be,” DeShields said. ”I don’t have anything bad to say about North Carolina. You can’t help it if a shoe doesn’t fit. Some things just don’t fit. I just felt like North Carolina’s great. I learned a lot. I was very appreciative of that opportunity, but I felt like here’s my home, here’s where I want to be. I was just having conflicts, feeling like I missed out on an opportunity.
”Now I’m here and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Even though DeShields won’t play for Tennessee this season, her teammates say she’s contributing with her vocal encouragement in practice. DeShields is currently recovering from a leg injury that has bothered her since high school, but she hopes to start practicing again within the next month.
”Being able to compete against her every day in practice is going to make us better,” senior guard Ariel Massengale said. ”I’m a strong believer that if we can guard her and contain her, then we can guard anyone else in college basketball.”