Feb. 24, 2014
Growing up in Miami, freshman guard Tiffany Suarez had never seen snow.
"The first time I ever saw snow was when we were in West Virginia this year," Suarez recalled. "We were at team dinner and my teammates started screaming `Oh! There's snow coming down!' I rushed to the window and looked out. I saw little white dots coming down from the sky. I was like `Wow! That's snow!' I was just amazed. I was like, oh my. This is so cool. It was a weird experience to think there was snow actually in front of me."
Suarez, like everyone else living in Charlottesville this winter, is now a seasoned-veteran of the white stuff.
"It is definitely cold," Suarez said, giving her revised appraisal of snow. "I still think it is really cool, but I try to stay indoors."
The Miami native, who lived in the same house for entire life before heading to Virginia, initially found it hard to leave behind the sunny skies and familiarity of her hometown.
"Leaving Miami was hard, because I love my city, but I wanted to go somewhere that I was needed and would be able to fulfill my dreams," Suarez said. "I felt like Virginia was the perfect place for me."
At Virginia, she saw an opportunity to not just improve her game and grow as a player, but really felt that she could help out the Cavaliers.
"I think the biggest thing that I bring to Virginia is that I am a fighter and I don't give up easily," Suarez said. "I have a passion to be a great player and I have a work ethic where I am not going to give up. When things aren't going my way, I still push through. I love the game so much and I just want to learn."
Learning the game began when she was five years old, emulating her older sister, Danielle, who was playing rec league basketball. After immediately falling in love with the sport, Suarez started playing rec league ball at age seven and kept working on her game and getting better and better. At the tender age of 11, she suddenly found herself and her basketball prowess thrust into the national spotlight as a member of the 2006-07 Jr. WNBA All-Star team. Suarez was one of five girls and five boys selected from an applicant pool of 750,000 kids to play against China in a halftime exhibition game during the NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas.
"My trainer told me about the Jr. WNBA All-Star team because he thought I had the potential to be one of those kids," Suarez recalled. "I had to do a live workout on camera and a live interview, going all the way through with no stopping. From that tape, the NBA committee would watch it and decide who out of 750,000 would be the five boys and five girls to make the team.
"I was with my JV team when I got the phone call that they had loved my game and had picked me," Suarez said. "I got so excited, I started crying."
In addition to heading to Las Vegas and hobnobbing with the likes of Yao Ming, the sixth grader was also recognized by her hometown Miami Heat.
"The Heat invited me to one of their games and introduced me on the court at halftime," Suarez said. "They let me wear their NBA Championship ring. They knew that Dwayne Wade was my favorite player, so they introduced me to him."
The Jr. WNBA Team wasn't just about halftime appearances and social opportunities.
It also ignited something in the young player's game.
"I played great against China," Suarez recalled. "I hit a buzzer-beater three and had the most steals. Ever since then, my basketball has just taken off. It was a really cool experience and a great confidence builder. It showed me what I could achieve and where I want to go, which is the WNBA. That is the big dream of mine."
Suarez is back in the spotlight again, playing on the big stage that is Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. She has enjoyed the challenges of competing against some of the top players in the country.
"It is exciting and a challenge to play against the great players in the ACC," Suarez said. "That kind of puts you on your toes because of all of the talent that is out there. You realize that you really have to work to achieve what you want to achieve. But that is a positive thing, because I want to get my game to the next level. Being in the ACC is going to get me there."