Nando earns starting role

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But don't think just because she is a senior, the position was hers automatically. The 5-foot-6 former Cardozo standout has worked extremely hard to earn the honor.

"Dona's earned it," said Miami head coach Ferne Labati. "She has a lot of leadership abilities and is a very good shooter."

At the start of the season Nando was on the bench, playing behind sophomore Amanda Papuga for seven of the first eight Hurricanes games.

But Nando didn't let that get to her. Instead she continued to work hard in practice and on Dec. 28, Labati gave Nando the nod and she hasn't looked back, staring the next eight games for Miami.

"I didn't get down on myself [because I wasn't starting], I just turned it around," Nando said. "It was greater motivation for me to play better. If I started - cool, it wasn't like I wasn't playing hard [off the bench]."

In 16 games for the Hurricanes this year, Nando is averaging 3.9 points per game and 2.1 rebounds. She has 32 assists and 24 steals in 22.3 minutes per game. While she is struggling from the field (28.8 percent) and from beyond the arc (21.7 percent), Nando has thrived from the free throw line, shooting 73.3 percent - good for third on team.

But more than her stats, it is Nando's leadership that is important for a relatively young Miami team.

"That is something that just comes out of me," said the quiet Nando. "Coach emphasizes more vocal leadership. In order to be on the same page as the rest of the team, I have to tell them what we're running."

Nando is also filling the shoes of arguably the best point guard in Miami history, Gina Graziani, the all-time school and Big East leader in assists with 743.

"She played behind one of the all-time great point guards in the school and the conference," Labati said. "This year she wasn't starting as point guard, but then she got the nod because of her leadership. She is very composed."

Nando, who started just one of her first 54 games, averaging 2.0 minutes per game in her first three years, said she used her first three years on the bench as a learning experience.

"I picked up a lot of stuff [from Graziani]," she said. "Sitting there watching her play made me a better player."

It wasn't too long ago when it was Nando who was being heralded as the best point guard in a school's history. That was four years ago when she graduated from Cardozo High School.

When her brilliant four-year high school career was over, Nando was the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,789 points and became the first girls' basketball player ever at Cardozo to have her number retired. University of Delaware junior Val Katsorhis has since also had her jersey retired.

Nando quickly found out how huge the difference from high school to college hoops was in her freshman year, when she played in 19 games, averaging 0.7 points in 5.1 minutes per game.

"I definitely had to make an adjustment. [High school and college ball] are two different ballparks," Nando said. "In college, you have to play your position, you have roles to follow."

Her sophomore year proved to be her most trying as she worked hard to rehabilitate a torn ACL that kept her out of the lineup for most of the year.

"That was a hard time, but it made me stronger," she said. "I didn't put my head down, I made it a goal to get stronger and get back to where I was."

Stronger mentally and physically, Nando had a breakout junior year, garnering career-highs in points (16 against Temple) and rebounds (five vs. St. John's). She averaged 3.7 points and 1.4 rebounds in 25 games for the 'Canes.

With her senior season winding down, the marketing major isn't thinking too much about what she is going to do after she graduates Miami in the spring, that is except for one thing.

"I might take a vacation," she said.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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