women basketball

Diamond DeShields, guard #11 of the Lady Vols against Florida at Thompson-Boling Arena on Feb. 23, 2017.

Diamond DeShields wants to finish sculpting her legacy before leaving UT.

The star guard announced in an Instagram post on Saturday that she will return to play for head coach Holly Warlick for her final season at Tennessee, instead of joining the WNBA ranks.

“I will forgo the WNBA draft to finish my senior year here at UT,” DeShields said in the post.

The Norcross, Georgia, native wrote that she looks to set an example for Tennessee’s upcoming recruiting class, composed of high school All-Americans Evina Westbrook, Anastasia Hayes, Kasi Kushkituah and Rennia Davis.

“Developing my game further and playing for championship(s) are always part of the ideal plan, but giving these four young ladies an opportunity to be themselves, make mistakes and still have the love they need and deserve is my first priority,” DeShields said.

The dynamic scorer was high on almost every WNBA prospect list. Many mock drafts had DeShields being drafted as the No. 1 overall pick to the San Antonio Stars.

DeShields’ decision to return to the Lady Vols likely gives Tennessee its most talented roster in years for the 2017-2018 season. DeShields led Tennessee with 17.4 points per game last season and has been named WBCA All-Region and Honorable Mention All-American.

Mercedes Russell, who was also considered a WNBA draft prospect, announced last week that she will also be returning to Tennessee for her senior season.

The 6-foot-6 center, who broke Isabelle Harrison’s record for the most double-doubles for a Lady Vol junior (19) last year, was recently awarded Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press, WBCA All-Region and Honorable Mention All-American (WBCA).

Westbrook has been ranked as the No. 2 player in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the class of 2017. She hails from Oregon, where Lady Vols Russell and Jaime Nared, and 2016-2017 senior Jordan Reynolds, also call home.

Hayes, a Riverdale product, is ranked No. 9 by espnW Hoop Gurlz, with Davis at No. 12 and Kushkituah at No. 55.

“It’s exciting for us,” Warlick said in 2016 about the recruiting class. “I’m really pleased because I think they are really going to complement the returning players on our team.”

DeShields, who spent her freshman year at North Carolina, said that she wanted to give to the incoming players what she and the others in her freshman class needed.

“The ‘big sister’ is what we needed,” DeShields said. “Someone to tell us where we were being knuckle heads. Someone to give us words of encouragement when we did something well. Someone to not only embrace our talents but help us work to improve them.

“My heart smiles now because I see this as a second chance; a chance to do things the right way and be the example that I never had.”

The Lady Vols finished at 20-12 last season. Despite key wins against highly-ranked Stanford, Notre Dame and South Carolina, the team couldn’t seem to find consistency; they were eliminated by Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament, then by Louisville in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.

With the past season being considered another disappointment by the Lady Vol faithful, the program will need all hands on deck in order to make a run at the Final Four and the National Championship in 2017-2018.

And DeShields, as a player, a leader and a mentor, appears ready to step up.

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