Lady Vols' DeShields expects to be ready for season opener

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee guard Diamond DeShields is confident she will be ready for the start of the season while her new team remains cautious with the North Carolina transfer.

DeShields sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and says she needed that time off to recover from some nagging leg injuries. She appeared in only one of the U.S. team's six games at the World University Games this summer and didn't play during the Lady Vols' August tour of Italy.

''I know I'll be good to go by the time that first game hits,'' DeShields said.

Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick also said DeShields is ''going to be fine'' for the Nov. 15 season opener with Central Arkansas. Warlick cited shin splints as the reason DeShields didn't play in Italy.

''We're still going slow with her,'' Warlick said. ''She's on the floor, probably not on the floor 100 percent. We're just watching her with contact.''

Tennessee is counting on the 6-foot-1 sophomore to provide star power to a program that hasn't produced an Associated Press first-team or second-team All-American since Candace Parker led the Lady Vols to their last national title in 2008. The Lady Vols haven't been back to the Final Four since, though they've reached regional finals four of the last five years.

DeShields' confidence is apparent in the goals she has set for herself.

''I want to be SEC player of the year,'' DeShields said. ''I want to be an All-American. I want to average a double-double. ... I want to be more of a defender.''

DeShields averaged 18 points and led North Carolina to a regional final her lone season with the Tar Heels. DeShields says she's a wiser player now than before and credited her Tennessee coaches and teammates for ''basically forcing me to develop more of a mental aspect of the game of basketball.''

Warlick called DeShields a ''great team player'' and brought up the names of some of the most notable players in Lady Vols history while discussing her potential impact.

''I just think she brings that wow factor to us,'' Warlick said. ''I think Diamond is an exceptional athlete, an exceptional basketball player. Those types of players (only) come around once in a while, and I think she's that type of player. She's got a little bit of Chamique Holdsclaw in her. She's got a little bit of knowledge of Tamika Catchings in her. She hates to lose, which I love. She's competitive in everything, sometimes to a fault.''

Warlick noted that DeShields is the kind of player where ''if we need a bucket, we can go there and she'll get a bucket for us.'' Warlick added that ''in the past, we haven't had that type of kid.''

DeShields, the younger sister of Texas Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields, says she savors that kind of responsibility.

''I've never met a shot I didn't like - at any moment,'' DeShields said.

Although she hasn't played her first game for Tennessee yet, she is well aware of the Lady Vols' history and understands what it means to represent this program. DeShields' mother was an All-America heptathlete for Tennessee's track team.

''It's like a dream come true, like a kid who's just seen snow for the first time,'' DeShields said. ''I get to play in orange after sitting out for an entire year. It's just a mixture of so many emotions. On top of the excitement, I'm anxious. I'm hungry.

''I'm betting on myself to be the fiercest competitor on the floor this year, and I say that with all the confidence in the world. There's just so much that I feel like I have to prove and we feel like we have to prove just as a team. We all go out every day with that mentality. I think we'll make a statement this year.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.