NASHVILLE --- After helping lead the Tennessee State men’s basketball team to a 20-11 record in 2015-16, Keron DeShields is in his first season at the professional level in Italy. Five games into his professional career with Latina Basket, DeShields is leading the team with 16.4 points and 3.2 assists per game.
In his final collegiate season with TSU, DeShields posted a team-high 16.5 points per game en route to First Team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors.
TSUTigers.com caught up with DeShields following his early success in Italy.
TSUTigers.com: What is the style of play like in your league in Italy?
Keron DeShields: “The style is a slower pace depending on what team you play with. My team is a transition style team, so it’s up and down, up and down, but the style is still think first. It’s not so much how athletic you are or things of that nature. You have to think the game, and you have to make the right decisions. Lessen your dribbles, re-screens, down screen situations. Transition as far as me playing the point guard position, the style of play was challenging at first. I went through my bumps and bruises because last year (at TSU) I played shooting guard. This year I transitioned back to the point guard spot, which I played at Montana. Luckily I had coaches at Tennessee State who were point guards like Rodney Hamilton and Pierre Jordan, who had experiences playing the 'one', so that helped me out a lot both over the summer and when I was at TSU to get ready for this moment.”
TSU: They have you playing point guard. How has that been after playing shooting guard for most of the season at TSU last year?
KD: “It’s definitely natural. The only thing that’s the tough part is playing with guys who I didn’t really know at first. Having to figure out where they like the ball and how they play, all within a month. It’s tough as a point guard only having a month with a bunch of new guys. That was the toughest part of the process. Learning them and learning their spots, that all starts off the court, then when you get them on the court, it translates. Now that I know them more, I’m starting to understand my point guard role. My coach (Franco Gramenzi), he really helps me out as far as teaching me the European game. He’s won 10 championships here in Italy, so he’s really a smart coach and well known over here. He’s helped me out and really wants me to do well.”
TSU: What has been the biggest surprise for you?
KD: “My biggest surprise is being away, it showed me who I really am. It’s helping me become a better man and a better person. It has given me time to think. I’m on my own and away from all distractions. It’s really helping me a lot. People like Coach (Dana) Ford and Coach (Randy) Peele would tell me, 'you have to focus on yourself.' You need to focus on your next step so you can become a better man, a better player. Now that it’s all happening, I’m understanding what they were preparing me for. I’ve transitioned so well, and I’m learning more and more about myself. There’s no negativity, I’m just learning who I am as a person.”
TSU: How does the language barrier work? Do you have an interpreter in practice?
KD: “Most of the guys on the team speak English. They help me out at practice. One of my main translators is a guy named Coach Pepe. He’s the head assistant coach and in practice when Coach Franco speaks in Italian, he translates. If Coach Franco is talking to me and not the whole team, he’ll just translate it himself because he’s pretty good at speaking English. The whole organization is good at English and the transition has been good for me.”
TSU: Off the court, do most people in the city speak English, or mostly Italian?
KD: "It’s mostly just Italian. There are some people who speak English, but as they would say, they are just 'so-so' with their English. When I go to dinner, I’ve learned a little bit of Italian so I kind of know how to tell them what I want, or I use Google Translate and tell them like that and they laugh. It’s pretty cool, and it’s been a good experience."
TSU: What is the atmosphere like playing on game days in Italy?
KD: “They love basketball in Italy. They go crazy. We’ll be in a game, fans are yelling at us. It’s a hostile environment. They’re not just fans and they’re cheering for their team. Their fans are trying to break you down, but luckily I don’t understand what they’re saying so I don’t care. I just play. We played against one team, and their owner was on the sideline literally yelling at the players, yelling at the refs. It’s crazy.”
TSU: What was your TSU experience like?
KD: “The ups and downs of my TSU experience from the time I had to sit out my first season where it was rocky to the time where I actually got a chance to play and learn and become a man was phenomenal for me for this experience that I’m going through now. I know how to handle stressful situations, and I don’t know if I would have been ready if I didn’t go to TSU. When I left Montana, I had some different options. I chose TSU because of Coach Dana Ford. We had some mutual ties, and I believed in him. For us to accomplish what we did and for me to go through all that I did and bounce back and be a pro, it shows the character that Coach Ford, Coach Peele, Coach Hamilton and Coach Jordan saw in me when they recruited me. They prepared me. To see where the program is and what we’ve accomplished, as a TSU community, we’re doing what we set out to do athletically and off the court because Coach Ford and the whole university holds us to a higher standard. It shows in the character of the players there now and the players who have been through there.”