After eye and back surgeries, Diamond DeShields up for comeback player of the year ESPY

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Through multiple eye and back surgeries in her career, Mercury guard Diamond DeShields always returned to the game of basketball.

“I’m rising to the challenge of it all,” DeShields said. “I think there were plenty of opportunities for me to quit, but kind of looking at it like if this is happening to me, there has to be some sort of triumph, some sort of opportunity to overcome.”

DeShields was diagnosed with keratoconus, an eye condition that weakens the cornea and causes it to bulge outward, when she was 15. As her condition progressed, she said she has had two eye surgeries over the course of her five-year WNBA career and has to wear specialized glass contact lenses to help her eyesight. To protect her glass contact lenses, she wears goggles on the court.

But DeShields’ comeback nature didn’t stop after her keratoconus diagnosis.

Ahead of the 2020 season, while DeShields was with the Chicago Sky, an MRI found a benign tumor in her spinal cord, and she underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove the schwannoma. DeShields had a risk of paralysis whether or not she went through with the surgery, according to ESPN, and the surgery gave her tremors and spasms from the impacted nerves.

DeShields still returned for part of the Sky’s season in the 2020 WNBA bubble, playing limited minutes off the bench. She was part of Chicago’s 2021 WNBA Championship season before she was traded to Phoenix ahead of the 2022 season.

“I think in life, we all get faced with untimely bumps in the road, some higher than others. But I think, like, if you turn and go the other way, what does that say about you?" DeShields said. "I think that’s what brought me back, just the pursuit of having the career I dreamt of having, you know, want to be the player I knew I could be.”

DeShields revealed her career-threatening injury to the public in May, and she’s now up for an ESPY for comeback player of the year. Fans vote for the winner of each category, and voting closes on Sunday at 5 p.m.

DeShields joins Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow as the nominees.

“That award in particular is a very unique one, because we always want the greatest catch or greatest play,” DeShields said. “We watch those all the time, but like the comeback award is one that you have to go through some really hard times to even be recognized, and I think that having a chance to win that award is very humbling.”

DeShields has fluctuated between the starting lineup and coming off the bench for the Mercury this season, averaging 13 points per game and a 39.4 field goal percentage.

“I think she’s been doing a lot of great stuff for us,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said ahead of Thursday’s game. “Everybody pays attention to points and things like that, but I think Diamond’s doing so many great things for us defensively. She understands what we’re doing.”

DeShields showed her defensive expertise on Thursday night, making a pivotal block for the Mercury in the first quarter. Soon after, however, DeShields fell hard on her left hip. Although she tried to return to the game, she was ultimately ruled out after playing just three minutes.

July 14, 2022;  Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Diamond DeShields lays on the ground receiving medical attention after sustaining an injury against the Mystics during a game at the Footprint Center.
July 14, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Diamond DeShields lays on the ground receiving medical attention after sustaining an injury against the Mystics during a game at the Footprint Center.

“It’s unfortunate, I think she was going to have a big game tonight,” Diana Taurasi said Thursday. “You could feel it. I think she really wants to come out and play well for us and for herself.”

Short-handed Mercury to take on Dream

DeShields is listed as out for the Mercury’s game against the Atlanta Dream on Sunday at 3 p.m., giving Phoenix just nine available players. Kia Nurse, who is recovering from an ACL tear, and Brittney Griner are also listed on the report.

While the Mercury (11-15) are coming off a 80-75 victory over the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, the Dream (10-14) suffered a 93-68 loss to the Sun on Friday.

The Dream were without two starters during Friday’s game: rookie All-Star Rhyne Howard and forward Monique Billings. Reserve Nia Coffey was also out on Friday.

According to ESPN, Howard and Coffey are both out for Sunday’s game. Billings was injured in Thursday’s game and is day-to-day.

The Mercury are currently in the playoff picture, holding the No. 7 seed. The Dream are tied for the eighth and final seed with the Los Angeles Sparks.

Phoenix will play Atlanta for the third and final time this season to determine the winner of the season series. The Dream demolished the Mercury, 81-54, in Atlanta on May 29, while the Mercury won a close game, 90-88, in Phoenix on June 10.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Diamond DeShields up for comeback player of the year ESPY