December 12, 2021 

‘I call Desi a baller’: Dez Elmore is making her impact on the Rhode Island program

In her last months before turning pro, Elmore is playing impactful, unselfish basketball for the Rams

Passionate and competitive are two words Rhode Island grad transfer Dez Elmore uses to describe her game.

Her head coach Tammi Reiss uses the words hooper and baller.

“She just has a feel for the game,” Reiss said. “She grew up playing it on the asphalt. She’s not a [player who] fundamentally does everything the exact right way that a trainer would teach you. Dez just feels the game and somehow she makes plays. And so that’s taught by just hooping with fellas, just going out to the ballpark, to the courts and just getting some games on … Dez has got a little freedom to her ability. And that’s why I always call her a baller or a hooper.”

Elmore has been playing basketball since shortly after she was able to walk, and her father and brother were her earliest and greatest influences in the sport.

Her dad always brought her to the gym and had her playing on boys’ teams when she was younger so she would learn to be more physical and aggressive. Elmore believes this is reflected in her style of play to this day. 

In addition, Elmore’s brother taught her how to take charges, something she believes she has mastered.

“[I just try] to implement everything that everybody has taught me and help it mold me into a great player so that I can be successful in years to come,” Elmore said.

Growing up in Connecticut, she had no shortage of basketball players to look up to. Elmore’s favorite player was Maya Moore, and though their playing styles are different, she still incorporates aspects of Moore’s game where she can.  

“I just love how she comes in every day and just plays. She just plays freely, doesn’t let anything stop her when she’s off,” Elmore said. “She finds another way to make her team successful. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Elmore won four state titles at Capital Prep before graduating in 2016. She averaged 26.7 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.5 blocks per game. 

The Hartford native eventually committed to Syracuse, where Reiss was an assistant coach from 2015 to 2019.

In her first year at Syracuse, Reiss went to all of Elmore’s AAU and high school games. Reiss was able to get to know Elmore’s game, including her talent, ability to score and her ability to play multiple positions. 

“I really loved Dez’s ability to put the ball in the basket, whether it was in transition or in the half court,” Reiss said. “And she could score anywhere on the floor. So I love that component about Dez. And she had a great feel for the game.” 

At Syracuse, Elmore had to adjust. She struggled to see the court and averaged 2.3 points and 1.3 rebounds in 9.0 minutes per game across 24 contests. 

Though she missed the 2017-18 season due to injury, Elmore was able to learn to enjoy the process despite a difficult year.

“You wake up every day [and] you don’t know what’s in store,” Elmore said. “You could simply roll your ankle walking down some steps and it can take you out of the game. So you just have to be appreciative and grateful for the opportunity you have while it’s in front of you because you never know when it could be taken from you.”

After redshirting that season, Elmore transferred to Seton Hall, where she would go on to play three seasons. She improved each season, putting up numbers in every statistical category. 

Last season, as a senior, Elmore was the only player in the Big East to rank in the top 15 in all five major statistical categories. She averaged 17.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. 

After last season, Elmore decided to transfer to Rhode Island for her last year of eligibility. She was excited to be closer to home and have it be easier for her family to come to games. Being at Rhode Island has also given Elmore the ability to go home for the day to relax and take a break so that she can return to campus with a fresh mindset.

In addition, knowing Reiss’ experience playing professionally as well as her coaching staff’s experience, transferring to Rhode Island just made sense. “I just felt that she would have my best interest in what I would need to work on in terms of getting to the next level,” Elmore said. 

While Reiss was looking for another scoring threat to pair with Emmanuelle Tahane and Marie-Paule Foppossi, she also wanted the opportunity to help Elmore grow as a person and a player. 

“I know Desi. I’ve been a pro. I know what it takes to be a pro,” Reiss said. “And so one of the reasons I think Desi came here was to learn that. And so that’s my job, balancing who Desi is and growing her into the next phase of her life, which is coming up very soon. She’s got three short months left of college basketball and then it’s time to go pro.”

Elmore says she does whatever she needs to do to help her team be successful. She credits her teammates and their confidence in her for her ability to be unselfish.  

“I have less than a year to learn a system,” Elmore said. “Learn plays, learn defensive schemes, offensive schemes. I’m taking the time to learn a lot of things and they’ve made it very easy for me, especially now that my role here is extra important because I’m a starter. They’ve taken the time to really let me struggle but also helped me get through my struggles.”

She knows that she doesn’t have to score 20 points a game and that that is part of being on a well-balanced team. 

“I may only have 10 points, but I try to make sure that I’m rebounding,” Elmore said. “Or that I’m setting my teammates up, getting assists, playing defense, getting stops, whatever we need. I just try to focus on that and make sure I can help bring wins.”

Through Dec. 11, Elmore is averaging 11.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. 

One thing that Reiss particularly loves about Elmore is something she does off the court. “Every morning, when we come in, and whether it’s a bad loss or whatever we’re doing, Dez will come out, ‘Yo, Coach. You good? Everything good?’” Reiss said. 

She later added, “She knows when she needs to step in and make you smile and laugh a little bit … No matter if the night before we had a really tough conversation and I had to get on her, [the] next day, it’s gone. She’s a goldfish; she forgets it after 10 seconds and we move on … No matter what’s going on, she’ll always pour into you a little bit and give you what you need in the time you need it. And I love that about her.”

In the next few months, Reiss hopes to see Elmore continue to grow in her habits and her approach to the game.

“It’s not easy to change your habits,” Reiss said. “It’s not easy to try to do something else that you’ve not done in your whole life. And so she tries. The one great thing about Desi and I is we communicate. We have great communication. I can call her on her shit when I need to. And she will listen.”

She later added, “We have that relationship where we can grow together, and that’s why she came here. That’s a journey and it’s a process. And yes, I’ve seen it throughout the course of the year. We grow, we take a step back, we grow a little bit more, take a step back and so it’s just part of the process. And in the end, I think she’ll get there.”

Elmore knows her team has a lot of talent and is looking to not only win an A-10 championship but also make a run in the NCAA tournament. She also knows the end of her collegiate career is coming soon, but with that comes the start of her professional career, she hopes.

She said, “That reality is coming very soon, a couple of months away, so I just have to make sure that when the time comes, I’m ready for it.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently covers both the Atlantic 10 and the WNBA.

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