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Denim DeShields’ unconventional path to her college basketball dream

Denim DeShields committed to UAB earlier this year after a winding process. (Courtesy of UAB Athletics)

To understand Denim DeShields, you have to start with paper donuts.

DeShields used to cut out paper versions of the circular treat, decorate them, and then walk around the neighborhood, selling her creations for 25 cents. No one needs a paper donut, but there was something about Denim beyond the cuteness factor.

“She’s always had a great entrepreneurial spirit,” said her sister, WNBA player Diamond DeShields. “And an eagerness to financially get ahead.”

Her neighbors sensed it and would happily part with their quarters for one of her signature, albeit useless, paper donuts.

There was also a fearlessness to Denim. She was vibrant and had a never-ending zeal for life.

“When she was little, she was a firecracker full of energy,” Diamond said. “I remember her always running around my games, being the cute, younger sibling.”

Diamond remembers when Willow Smith released her song, “Whip My Hair.” Denim would run around singing the lyrics and, of course, whipping her hair all over the house.

But between her spurts of youthful energy and dreams of playing basketball like her sister, there was always a little businesswoman in her. Denim was a kid, but she was also an old soul. She still is. That firecracker has a calm side, one that remained stoic in unlikely circumstances, and one that forged its own unconventional path.

When life gives her paper, Denim makes donuts.

***

About this time last year, Denim was committed to play college basketball at Indiana State.

The Georgia native picked her school simply because she knew it. COVID-19 made it so Denim couldn’t visit any other programs, and she’d at least been on campus at Indiana State.

“I didn’t want to go to that school,” she said. “I didn’t get to go through my recruiting process the way I wanted to, physically, because of COVID. I made an impulse decision to commit there because it was the only school I’d been able to visit. From a comfortability standpoint, that was just what I decided.”

A school she knew, even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted, was better than one she didn’t. At least, that’s what she thought.

A few months before Denim was set to report to Indiana State, Diamond, then a guard for the Chicago Sky, had some unprecedented free time. She started thinking about Denim, and how different her younger sister’s senior year had been. Diamond remembers thinking how devastated she would have felt missing out on things during her high school days — Like her last AAU season — because of COVID-19. So, she picked up the phone and dialed Denim.

The question was simple: “How are you doing?”

The answer took a lot longer to unpack.

Diamond knew she had to do something. Denim had been independent for so long, that she didn’t really know she could rely on anyone, even the people who love her.

Denim’s parents have been divorced since she was born, but she remains close with both of them. Her father, Delino DeShields, was a professional baseball player and currently serves as a coach for the Cincinnati Reds. She grew up living with her mom.

“I definitely had a different childhood compared to other people,” she said. “There are times where whole families sit at the table and eat dinner every night. For us, it was a lot different.”

Between her dad, her sister and one of her brothers, Delino Jr. (he currently plays pro baseball for the Reds), most of Denim’s days and nights were spent at sporting events.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “It was never boring.”

Then, when she was 14, Denim moved 45 minutes away to live with her high school coach. It was out of necessity, to make the commute easier and give her the opportunity to attend the school she wanted. Her mom still came to all of her games, but Denim essentially took charge of her own life.

So, when the recruiting process came around, even with all the unknowns of the pandemic, Denim relied on herself.

When she was unhappy, Denim didn’t tell anyone. When it came to school and basketball, she’d always been able to handle her business. Why ask for help now?

If it weren’t for an older sister’s intuition, Denim might not have opened up. And she might have played her freshman season at Indiana State. But as soon as Diamond heard Denim’s voice on the other end of the phone, she knew one thing.

“Just hearing her on the phone that day, with tears in her eyes, it just broke my heart,” Diamond said. “I knew I had to do something.”

Her little sister would not be going to college in 2021-22. There had to be another option.

And there was: prep school. It’s a path that plenty of men’s college basketball players have taken. They finish their four years of high school, and then take a fifth at another private school in order to improve their skills or grades, or sometimes to get bigger and stronger and enhance their recruiting prospects.

For Denim to go would be different. Yet it also made complete sense. Her life has been unconventional from the start, and this would be another step on the path she’s long been forging.

“I don’t know a high school girl who’s done it,” Diamond said of the fifth year. “I’m sure it’s been done, but it is so uncommon. In pursuing this option, I had to think outside the box. It’s not a blueprint that is common as an alternate option for women’s basketball players.”

Once she realized it could be done, Denim was all in.

With so many elite athletes in the family, comparisons are bound to happen. But since she moved out, Denim had just been Denim. For the first time in a long time, she was ready to let someone else take control of her life.

***

Denim spent the summer before her second senior year living with Diamond in Chicago, where the older DeShields sister was playing for the Sky, on their way to winning a WNBA championship. And when school started up, Denim still headed to the city for weekends when she had the chance.

Denim, Diamond says, is her best friend, but they weren’t always so close.

There are eight years between the two, and when Denim was in elementary school, that felt like a lot.

“We had such a huge age gap that we couldn’t really bond with each other,” she said. “It was kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’s my sister,’ and she would play around with me, but it took until we got a little bit older to really be able to get close to her the way I wanted to.”

Then, COVID-19 happened.

The pandemic ruined a lot of things for Denim, but it strengthened her relationship with her older sister. After years of being away playing basketball — first in college at North Carolina and Tennessee, then in Turkey, and then in the WNBA — Diamond moved home to Atlanta during the pandemic.

When Diamond left for college, they were sisters who loved each other, but after the pandemic, they also understood one another.

“We had many, many conversations, because during lockdown, all you could really do was talk,” Denim said with a laugh. “We caught up on lost time … So now, we are really close. If there is a person I go to about anything, it is always going to be her.”

Denim also used the pandemic to learn a new hobby — braiding hair, which, in typical Denim fashion, she took to the next level. Braiding her own hair, or her sister’s, wasn’t enough. So once she mastered the skills, Denim turned it into a business.

Now, she has clients in Atlanta and Chicago, and over the summer she set up shop in a Chicago hair salon called Vanity Palace. Her coworkers were all in their 40s, but Denim bonded with them, too. They check up on her via text message, and every time she’s in Chicago, Denim goes by the salon to catch up.

“She’s the only person I’ll let braid my hair,” Diamond said.

***

After her conversation with Denim, Diamond started cold-calling admissions offices and talking to people she knew in the basketball world. She spent her free time looking up different schools and doing as much research as she could. Finally, she whittled down the selections. Wherever Denim went, it had to be a good fit, but most importantly, she had to be able to play basketball, take classes and remain eligible for the next level.

La Lumiere ended up being exactly what they were looking for. The prep school of 215 students boasts several notable basketball alumni like Tyger Campbell, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jordan Poole and, most recently, Jaden Ivey. The Purdue star, who declared for the NBA Draft in March, spoke highly of his coach at La Lumiere, Matt Marvin. The basketball world is small. Small enough that word about Ivey’s experiences traveled back to Diamond.

Marvin is now the girls coach for the Lakers, and with the testimony of players like Ivey, the DeShields girls felt comfortable with him.

For Denim and Marvin, the move was mutually beneficial.

“We are getting things rolling with the girls program,” Marvin said. “This was a good opportunity to jumpstart the program.”

So Denim headed to La Lumiere. The difference between her hometown of Atlanta, and the small town of La Porte, Ind. — population 21,577 — was instantly noticeable. But Denim didn’t mind.

“It’s definitely been different,” she said. “But nothing short of memorable. I’ll always remember this place, the people and the relationships I’ve formed here. I’ve never been in this type of environment. Not just because of the location, but because of the community.”

Denim described La Lumiere, with its small student body and tight-knit supporters, as “intimate.” There’s no getting lost in the shuffle.

And most importantly, Denim got to hit repeat on her senior year.

Diamond loved seeing her little sister’s name pop up in the family group chat, recapping her experiences. One in particular sticks out: It was a picture of Denim sledding down a hill, enjoying the snow with her new teammates.

“You can see a genuine smile on her face,” Diamond said.

La Lumiere was a new beginning for Denim, but there was still plenty to do. Now, the recruiting process had to start all over again. And like anything Denim does, she approached this task with her own, unique spin.

***

Denim felt relief when she decommitted from Indiana State. Now, after choosing La Lumiere and spending the summer in Chicago, finding the right school was the whole point of all of this.

Yet when she arrived on campus, Marvin was surprised to find that Denim didn’t seem concerned about what was going to happen next. She was calm and focused on playing for the Lakers — that’s it.

Denim, Marvin says, is the consummate point guard.

“When emotions are running high, she is always in control,” he said.

Marvin remembers one of Denim’s performances, in particular. The Lakers played No. 16 South Bend Washington on Jan. 29, and Denim got in foul trouble early on.

“We kind of took a gamble leaving her in the game and letting her play with fouls,” Marvin said. “Even in a game that was so high pressure and she had foul trouble, she was totally in control of herself.”

Denim finished with 12 points, six rebounds and six assists as La Lumiere pulled out a one-point win.

The point guard is so even-tempered that sometimes Marvin wishes she would show a bit more emotion — especially when it came to her recruitment.

Until February, Denim didn’t have an official offer. Marvin was incredulous. His point guard had all the skills to be a college basketball player, and an elite one at that.

Denim is undersized at 5-foot-5, which may have impacted her recruitment, but her small stature has never been an issue for her on the court. A pass-first point guard, Denim uses her ball-handling and playmaking skills to create for others. She’s quick to the rim, fast in the open court and capable of finishing in traffic.

And, Marvin says, you can always trust her with the ball, which is why he knows she will make an impact at the next level.

“There are going to be a lot of colleges across the country that regret not trying to recruit her,” he said.

Yet as the days passed and Marvin eyed the calendar, Denim didn’t. There were no panicked conversations, no stress-fueled moments, not even a glimmer of doubt.

“She has not panicked about it at all,” Marvin said. “And there were even times where I would be like, ‘Denim, what do we do?’ And she would tell me, ‘It’s OK. I’m going to keep working hard and the right fit is gonna come.’ That’s just how she’s wired.”

Since that phone call with Diamond early last year, Denim has learned to allow others to help her. This time, Diamond was heavily involved in the recruiting process, and eventually, without any rush, Denim committed to UAB.

She knew she was meant to go to UAB from her first conversation with coach Randy Norton and his staff. This time, when she made the commitment, Denim didn’t have any second thoughts.

“It just felt right,” she said of becoming a Blazer. “My journey has been nothing but a rollercoaster, but I just put in the work and God did the rest.”

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DeShields connected with UAB head coach Randy Norton and his staff from the start. (Courtesy of UAB Athletics)

It took a year longer than planned, but Denim found her school.

“If there is anything this process has taught me, it’s just that things will work out in the end,” she said. “You can’t force anything to happen that’s not meant to be. There is no reason to stress about things.”

Denim plans to study business at UAB — no surprise there — and Diamond can’t wait to see what she does next.

“She really can do anything she sets her mind to,” she said.

Anything, like learning to braid hair and accruing clients in two different cities.

Like accepting help after years of doing things alone.

Like forging a path that high school girls basketball players have yet to try.

It’s too soon to know if other girls will follow suit. Denim made an impact at La Lumiere, but the landscape of girls prep basketball is rooted in its own traditions.

Denim, however, isn’t concerned with changing expectations as a whole. She just did things her own way.

And that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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