Next season, when the University of Miami women’s basketball team plays host to Fordham during its Thanksgiving tournament, the game will have happened largely because of one visiting player.
She’s Tiffany Suarez, a 5-11 junior guard who was a three-time All-State selection during her prep career at Miami’s Lourdes Academy.
Out of high school, Suarez signed with the University of Virginia, rejecting offers from Vanderbilt, Syracuse and all the major Florida schools. But after failing to consistently crack the Virginia lineup — she started five games as a freshman in 2013-2014 but none last season — Suarez transferred.
“It was disheartening,” Suarez said of her experience at Virginia. “The way they recruited me so hard — they told me they wanted me to change their program. They started recruiting me in the summer of my eighth-grade year, calling me, sending me videos.”
Suarez said the vibe changed as soon as she got on campus. She wanted to transfer after her freshman season, but she said Virginia coach Joanne Boyle, who has yet to make the NCAA Tournament in four years with the Cavs, begged her to stay.
After Suarez’s sophomore season, the decision to walk away was mutual.
Suarez, 20, contacted several schools before selecting the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Fordham Rams, a Division I program in the Bronx, New York.
“She reached out to us, and we jumped on that,” Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “Our location in New York was appealing to her because of her major and what she wants to do after [basketball] — broadcasting and modeling.
“It made sense.”
As per NCAA transfer rules, Suarez has to sit out this season. She cannot travel with the team, but she can practice, and she can enjoy the campus, which is 20 minutes from Manhattan.
“Our campus is like its own island,” Gaitley said. “We’re right down the street from the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden.”
Once Suarez became part of the Fordham program, Gaitley said she scheduled the Miami game to give the hometown girl her chance to play in front of family and friends.
“We did that for her,” Gaitley said.
Next season, Fordham will have two former ACC players eligible to compete — Suarez and 6-2 sophomore forward Nicole Floyd, who started 11 games as a freshman at Wake Forest.
Gaitley said Suarez is a shooting guard.
“I think she sees herself as a point guard because she likes the ball in her hands,” Gaitley said. “I think it’s a great luxury having a shooting guard who can handle like her. She’s an incredible athlete with a great ability to create her own shot.”
Suarez admits that she sees herself as a point guard, and she is working to prove to Gaitley that she can set up teammates as well as score.
Gaitley said Suarez could help her team right now, but she also believes that the year off from games will help her learn the Fordham system.
“She has a tendency to over-dribble,” Gaitley said. “We only want her to dribble when she is attacking the basket. … But she goes hard all the time. We’re excited to have her.”
Suarez, whose sister Gabrielle is a model for the elite Ford agency, wants to play pro basketball for as long as she can before trying other roles. For instance, she is doing sports reports for the Fordham radio station.
“I want to be a sports broadcaster,” she said. “And I want to model while I play [professionally].”