No. 3 Diamond DeShields is gem of North Carolina's quartet of top 2013 recruits
The sound you just heard is North Carolina crashing the party of national championship contenders in women's college basketball.
Any time a program lands a potential superstar -- as the Tar Heels did Saturday morning with a commitment from Diamond DeShields of Norcross, Ga., the No. 3 prospect among 2013 girls' basketball players -- it puts itself into play as a force. But coach Sylvia Hatchell and staff also have laid the groundwork for a blockbuster supporting cast, getting pledges on Saturday from from Allisha Gray of Sandersville, Ga., the No. 8 prospect in the 2013 class; Stephanie Mavunga of Brownsburg, Ind., the No. 15 prospect in the 2013 class, and Jessica Washington of Tulsa, Okla., the No. 18 prospect.
Of the latter three, Gray widely is regarded as one of the best scorers in the country, giving the Tar Heels a formidable one-two punch with DeShields on offense. Who eventually becomes the one and who becomes the two won't even matter.
The amount of talent committed to North Carolina -- four of a single class' top 18 players -- in one day is staggering, and likely unprecedented.
All of this is on top of a 2012 signing class ranked No. 10 nationally by ESPN HoopGurlz, plus a 2013 recruiting class already in the lightning round.
It isn't often that a program misses the NCAA tournament, as North Carolina (20-11) did in 2011-12, then follows that by landing what is shaping up to be one of the top recruiting classes in the country. The Tar Heels are a long-venerated program and that recent, comparative mediocrity (by UNC standards) means opportunity for elite prospects to swoop in and have immediate impact. So they are in an apparent swarm.
Pull back the curtain and you'll witness the machinations of a master recruiter, Trisha Stafford-Odom. She previously sprinkled her fairy dust on a resurgent Duke program, then made a somewhat controversial flip to an archrival and is doing the same at North Carolina.
It's because of Stafford-Odom, and the phenomenon of momentum feeding upon itself, that it's likely the Tar Heels are not done in this class. They still are getting a strong look from Rebecca Greenwell, the No. 5 prospect from Owensboro, Ky. North Carolina also still is on the list, albeit still a long one, for No. 1 Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Ore. Don't discount her. She and Mavunga are close friends and have talked publicly of trying to play on the same college team.
The Tar Heels will add four major pieces in the 2012 signing class -- No. 25 Xylina McDaniel, a forward from Blythewood, S.C.; No. 57 N'Dea Bryant, a wing from Goose Creek, S.C.; No. 58 Antoinette Bannister, a guard from Jacksonville, Fla.; and No. 80 Hillary Fuller of Fernandina Beach, Fla. In the 2013 class, North Carolina already had commitments from Briana and Bria Day of Raleigh, N.C., and Tanisha Brown, a guard from Myrtle Beach, S.C., who is ranked No. 54 in the class. Brown, who may already have sensed shifting winds, is said to be fielding calls from other schools.
North Carolina also has verbals from Jamie Cherry, a four-star point guard in the 2014 class, and Te'a Cooper, already considered one of the top point guards in the 2015 class.
That's a lot of new names, plus holdovers, to stuff into a roster that can accommodate only 15 players -- and redundancy at the forward position, only one true post unless Russell is added, and just one classic point guard for the next two years.
If North Carolina can gracefully navigate the logjam, it's easy to imagine an athletic and talented, out-of-the-box team. Basketball being a star-driven sport, having DeShields as a centerpiece is a great place to start. She is explosive, versatile and competitive, and Chapel Hill will give her room to breathe and stretch out. Gray also is the kind of player who can go nuts on the next level because she is so explosive and opponents will be hard-pressed to double team her and DeShields.
The X-Girl, McDaniel, has a polished enough game to be paired with Mavunga, who is more of an effort player, in a dual-forward setup that will not give up much, if anything, in terms of size. Between DeShields, Bryant and Bannister, Gray and Washington, the Tar Heels have the wing and backcourt more than ably and interchangeably filled. If Russell is added to the fold, the lineup becomes more prototypical without sacrificing mobility or versatility, and the team's depth becomes otherworldly.
The team would be a little lacking in outside firepower, and that's presumably why the Tar Heels remain in the hunt for Greenwell. It all can work out on paper, and this certainly is the season for dreams. At the very least, North Carolina has on Saturday provided the fodder for some very big ones.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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