The Grind of Keron Deshields
For most of us fans basketball occupies our mind a small portion of the day. We get to see a good game after dinner, maybe watch highlights during the afternoon. That is about it.
For Keron Deshields the commitment to basketball is so much deeper than that. He can’t forget or mentally drift away from basketball because he is literally doing it most of the day.
He has to.
He used to be bad at basketball, like five years ago.
Unlike most D1 basketball players, and certainly almost every All-Conference D1 player, Keron DeShields was not pursued as a high school player.
There was no fight to host him officially. He did not have coaches lining up at his front door to meet his mother. He was not on any wish lists.
“Actually he wasn’t,” said cousin and friend Corey Spence. “ A lot of people didn’t believe in him. He had a lot of people that were just doubting him. So that forced him to get back in the gym and keep working on his game.”
The player you see before you, the ultimate slasher KD needed polishing. He needed to get better.
“So when he went to Vermont Academy he had a big game against Michael Carter-Williams (NBA),” said Spence. “That is where his career took off from there.”
DeShields dumped in 30+ points, according to Spence’s recollection. As an opposing point guard, MCW was tasked with defending KD and it was clearly a task the current Milwaukee Buck failed.
Despite the lofty reputation of Vermont Academy and deserved college adulation of Carter-Williams, DeShields thrived at prep school.
“His belief in himself and his process and using all the things that he experienced in his life is part of who he is as a player,” said former Vermont Academy Head Coach Jesse Bopp. “When he plays the game he brings his entire life with him and channels that in a way that really is positive. At times, at Montana, at Vermont (Academy) he was still trying to find a way to put that into what he is as a player. I think he has now found that. Because of that, because of how hard he works, his spirit I think he is a really good player.”
Coach Bopp is now an assistant coach with University of Chattanooga. When reached by phone, Coach Bopp unequivocally claimed that no college player he has come across in his career works as hard at KD.
Vermont Academy was his first time away from home. It was a completely new experience.
“We both handled it pretty well,” said Spence. “When he was in Vermont, I was in Maine.”
While DeShields was attending Vermont Academy under Coach Jesse Bopp, Spence was 3.5 hours up I-91 at Bridgton Academy in Maine.
“We both went to different prep schools and everything,” said Spence. “That helped us out a lot. We were always close to each other. He was in Montana, I was in Colorado (Northern Colorado). We were in the same conference. We were pretty much around each other our whole lives.”
The motto for Vermont Academy basketball is Trust the Process. If anyone witnessed every single step along the process it was Keron DeShields.
“He was at Vermont Academy for nine months,” said Coach Bopp. “When he left the program there was an award named after him. Every teacher at the school, every staff member at that school held him in the highest regard. You can’t help, when you see someone that is that committed to doing something, but be drawn to that.”
He did not skip a step. He was not vaulted into the spotlight.
KD is and was a grinder.
He lead the team in scoring and landed a D1 offer from Montana. Finally the process was bearing tangible results for KD.
From Baltimore to Big Sky
Vermont was an adjustment period, but Montana is another world altogether.
DeShields made the trek because he believed in the man who believed in him…Wayne Tinkle.
Now the head coach of Oregon State, Wayne Tinkle led the Montana Grizzlies for eight years.
Five years later, DeShields still raves about Coach Tinkle. His intensity and instruction gradually elevated the game of Keron.
Just because he landed that coveted D1 offer did not mean DeShields instantly burst onto the scene. The Baltimore-native was unknown and barely entrusted with minutes as a freshman on an NCAA Tournament Grizzlies team.
Unlike the phony Drake (rapper), KD started at the bottom. Again.
As a freshman DeShields earned 6.0 minutes per game. He scored 46 total points.
Sophomore year was slightly better personally, but both of his first two years the Grizzlies advanced to the NCAA Tournament. For University of Montana, an NCAA berth is not a birthright. They won consecutive Big Sky Titles and DeShields was integral to the cause.
DeShields left when Tinkle left. Instead of leading the new-look Grizzlies he elected to play the free agent market.
The basketball nomad was on the move again.
“After a certain age this becomes a business,” said Spence. “It is more than basketball now. It can give you a lot. It can take you places you never imagined that you would go. We needed to take this seriously because that is what we wanted to do…as a professional.”
DeShields chose Tennessee State for the final lap of his lifelong job interview. You see, KD is assembling a portfolio he hopes will position him for a pro career.
First Team All-OVC, DeShields is the leading scorer on a team nearing a TSU record for single-season wins (as D1 participant).
Last year DeShields did not play and the team won five games. With several other newcomers he drastically changed the identity of the entire program in months.
Back in December DeShields basked in the quick start to the season.
“This great start is a great momentum shift for this program and this school,” said DeShields December fifth after defeating Stetson. “Everything that is going on with the university, it is going to shed a bright light on this school.”
He routinely leads the team in scoring and drive.
There is only one OVC player better in crunch time (Torrance Rowe).
“He is a warrior. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the country,” said Coach Ford after the painful road loss at Tennessee Tech.
DeShields is an interesting human. During the game he has the scariest face in sports. Following great plays he looks like he will murder you. Following horrible plays he looks like he isn’t sure why he just murdered you.
“These kids have a lot of fight in them,” said Coach Ford after the Lipscomb win. “They have a lot of grit.”
He has a scary game-face. And he attributes that to his mentor in Montana, Coach Tinkle.
After wins DeShields is gracious with the compliments. Every single time he has done a postgame interview alongside a teammate he delivered a lengthy praise-filled, gushy talk. When Tahjere buried Lipscomb with 31 points, despite coming in with 11.2 ppg, DeShields rattled off all the great traits of McCall.
He praised the shooting display and politely suggested Tahjere can do that every night out.
“I call him Baby Westbrook,” DeShields said after the win. “That is what he does. He has to keep doing it every time because he is a heckuva player.”
Since that game McCall leads the team in scoring. The junior transfer hit at 17.4 ppg in OVC-play on top of playing elite perimeter defense.
Of course McCall deserves credit for scoring more, but DeShields’ unwavering confidence in him definitely helped spurn him on.
When TSU ran Tennessee Tech out of the building, DeShields bragged that Xavier Richards has been vital all season. The lowly 4.6 scoring output would disagree, but DeShields and Head Coach Dana Ford astutely recognized Richards’ defensive commitment and uncanny athleticism.
While DeShields is aggressively supportive in public he can be extremely demanding on his peers in private. He not only tells everybody Tahjere can score 20+ every night he attempts to prod the polite McCall into action too.
The Baltimore-native not only praised the intensity of Wayne Martin on the blocks, but DeShields also demanded his big man attack the glass more frequently.
The glare of DeShields is piercing and impactful. His intentions are pure and the results are undeniable.
“These kids are determined to change the program,” said Coach Ford in December.
The program has changed.
“When I first came here the goal was to win,” said DeShields. ” Coach put us in great situations. He always has. He is coach of the year. I saw a vision in his eyes and I ran with it. I said, ‘You know what? I believe you. Let’s go do this thing.'”
KD has changed. He is no longer that unwanted prospect. He does not have to claw for respect.
Keron DeShields played in the NCAA Tournament two times. He made All-OVC First Team and All-Newcomer Team.
The personality of KD resonated throughout the program, and neither he nor Coach Ford let a losing attitude seep in where once one lived.
For the last few months Spence and DeShields have been working out together, both in the weight room and on the court.
“We are always in the gym after practice,” said Spence. “Just being in practice, that is not enough. When you want to do certain moves on the court, when you want to do certain things, when you want the green light on the team you got to earn that. You have to get in the gym and work for it.”
Getting motivated to work has never been a DeShields weakness.
“I have never seen someone work so hard and be willing to try anything to get better,” said Coach Bopp. “His intentions totally match the product. What he intended to do and what he said he was going to do…he did it.”
The goals are too big to attain without work. The hurdles already passed were too big to overcome without work.
Practicing and working with Spence has been invaluable to DeShields’ development and focus.
“It has helped me a lot,” said DeShields. “It helped me be the player I am. I am not the fastest, not the tallest, don’t have the best jump shot, don’t have the best this or that, but I have the best work ethic.”
At times the adviser learns the most. Spence also benefited from the work outs. He continues to stay in his best shape.
“He is waiting for his next pro deal and our work ethic is going to get us there,” said DeShields. “Basketball is all we know. That is how we are going to feed our family.”
“These kids are used to winning,” said Coach Ford. “That is what you have to get here to break the cycle of losing.”
Winning in life and winning in basketball can be intertwined. For most athletes the sport provides a road map toward success off the floor.
“From our family not too many men graduated college or even went to college,” said Spence. “That is pretty much a big step. Basketball…that is just extra. Our mothers were pretty much big on us getting our degrees. ‘We are good at basketball. Ok, let’s finish us up by getting our degree.’”
DeShields will earn his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies this spring. His college career is over. To this day the Keron DeShields Award is handed out at Vermont Academy.
“I am a winner,” said DeShields. “I don’t speak much on that, but I have won my whole career. Wherever I have gone I have won. Went to Vermont Academy, won there. Went to Montana, won there. Came to Tennessee State, won here.”
Where will he win next?
One thing is certain…he will be on the hardwood.
“The kid is always in the gym,” said Coach Ford.