Diamond DeShields has a decision to make: Shall I go or shall I stay?
Tennessee’s athletic fourth-year junior forward has been projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming WNBA draft.
Is that more enticing than trying to help the Lady Vols win a national title?
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick told me recently she has talked to both DeShields and 6-6 center Mercedes Russell about the merits of making a run to the Final Four versus going the play-for-pay route.
Warlick hopes the prospects of cutting down the nets for the program’s ninth national championship will outweigh the merits of playing in the WNBA.
The merits of paying in the WNBA are not all that lucrative. A player taken in the first four picks will make $51,591 base escalating to $65,779 in the fourth year. A player taken between picks 5-8 will make $47,738 the first year, increasing to $60,867 the fourth year. Remaining first-round picks would make $42,600 in year one up to $54,315 in the fourth year.
Second round picks would make $41,022 the first year, $52,304 the fourth year.
The third round: $40,439 the first year to $49,498 the fourth year.
That’s the slotted scale for the WNBA.
That does not include endorsements. That does not include the prospects of playing overseas, where some teams pay as much as seven figures.
DeShields and Russell must decide by April 3. The draft is April 13.
That gives them two weeks to lick their wounds from a disappointing end to a perplexing 20-12 season that saw Tennessee beat four top 10 teams but lose to five teams with an RPI of 85 or higher. Go figure.
DeShields is an anomaly. She is a great athlete, but not a great basketball player. She has a killer pull-up jump shot and can be lethal in transition, but she makes too many silly mistakes, too many silly turnovers, too many silly fouls, too many silly defensive lapses.
She is too inconsistent to be put in the class with former UT greats Chamique Holdsclaw and Bridgette Gordon and Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker.
Holdsclaw won three national championships and played in three Final Fours. Gordon won two national titles and played in four Final Fours. Parker won two titles and was in three Final Fours. Catchings won one crown and played in two Final Fours.
DeShields was on UT teams that had two of the lowest NCAA Tournament seeds in program history – Nos. 5 and 7 – and set a school record for losses in a season. One team lost in the Elite Eight, the other in the second round.
Would staying at Tennessee another year improve her draft stock? Maybe not. But it could improve her game.
Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see DeShields play with a supporting cast that features the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see DeShields when she isn’t burdened with the thought of carrying a team for 40 minutes?
It would be curious to see how DeShields would fare with teammates as talented as UConn or Notre Dame or Baylor or South Carolina.
Tennessee has good talent, but not elite talent. It might rank in the top 10 in the nation in personnel. It doesn’t rank in the top five. But it might next year.
I asked former Lady Vol great Kara Lawson, who excels as an ESPN analyst, if she thought DeShields should turn pro?
“That’s really an individual decision,’’ said Lawson, who played on three Final Four teams at Tennessee. “Is she good enough to play in the WNBA? Yes. But I don’t know her academic situation or what her goals are outside of basketball.’’
Lawson said there are merits to remaining at UT.
“There is no greater stage in women’s basketball than college basketball, at least in terms of notoriety and publicity,’’ said Lawson, a veteran of the WNBA. “The WNBA hasn’t made it to the point where you have as good of exposure as you do in college. That’s not breaking news.’’
Lawson said Candace Parker and Maya Moore and Skylar Diggins garnered more publicity in college than the WNBA.
“It’s just not as easy to access the (WNBA) games,’’ Lawson said. “It’s not as promoted like women’s college basketball is during the traditional college basketball season.’’
So, do you want to play at a level with more exposure, where you at least get a cost-of-attendance stipend, a paid education with limited expenses where you can make a run at a Final Four?
Or do you want to play for pay in the relatively obscure WNBA for modest means with a chance to make more cash overseas?
While Lawson played in the WNBA, she never ventured overseas.
“I got a job with a little company called ESPN right out of college,’’ Lawson said.
That won’t be an option for DeShields.
Her decision revolves around whether to pursue winning a college title or get paid to play.
We will know within two weeks.