Since the 3-pointer was introduced in college basketball in 1986, 27 Central Michigan men’s and women’s basketball teams have taken the floor of the Dan Rose Center/McGuirk Arena.
Niki DiGuilio has used the 3-pointer more than any other player and she is still doing damage outside the arc today.
, 23 more than Kaihla Szunko and 20 more than Robbie Harmon.
“I came here for one reason and one reason only,” DiGuilio said. “Coach (Sue) Guevara said I can shoot and I think I’ve done my job pretty well.”
DiGuilio broke the 3-point record on Dec. 30 against Dayton, where she also became the 23rd member of the 1,000 point club. She now has 1,071 points, tied for 18th all-time with Lisa Zodtner.
“That comes with being a 3-point shooter,” DiGuilio said. “That’s my game and my teammates find me.”
It all started on Nov. 12, 2010 with 18:20 remaining in the second half of a game against North Carolina A & T.
DiGuilio got the start and she hit the first of many 3-pointers in a game that saw a 20-plus minute delay in the first half due to arena lights malfunctioning.
Maybe it was a sign of what was to become of the freshman guard who shoots the lights out of seemingly any gym she plays in.
She doesn’t remember her first bucket, which isn’t surprising considering what the senior has accomplished since then.
She won the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year award in 2011, starting every game for the Chippewas since. She shot 40 percent from the three that year.
“I was shocked when we had our first exhibition game against Michigan and Guevara said ‘DiGuilio, you’re in,’” she said. “It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but as soon as I got comfortable and realized I had the green light, I just went with the flow. I didn’t know anything. I had two great seniors, Kaihla Szunko and Shonda Long, that really helped me and we’re still good friends to this day.”
With such a great start to her career, DiGuilio was hard pressed to match it in her sophomore year. The 2011-12 season saw the arrival of one of, if not the best, recruiting classes in CMU’s history. With Crystal Bradford, Jessica Green and Kerby Tamm joining the mix, it was difficult for any one player to stand out on the squad.
DiGuilio started early, but after leaving the team for a brief time due to a death in her family, she came back off the bench. DiGuilio stayed for most of the season while shooting a single-season low 34 percent from downtown. It was the low point in the sharpshooter’s career at CMU.
“I went through a really hard time of my life where I lost my grandfather,” she said. “I missed a week and came back. I obviously wouldn’t start the next few games. I had been out, but I don’t know. I can’t say I did anything wrong personally and I still don’t know. I’ve talked to coach about it and it’s still a gray area.”
The determined shooter would taste sweet success yet again.
DiGuilio answered with her best season, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc as her team went on to win the MAC championship last season. Suddenly, she found herself back in the starting lineup – a status she continues to hold.
“I feel like I have a unique mentality on this team,” she said. “I keep everyone running, I’m the motor. Even if I’m not hitting my shots, I’m contributing somewhere. There is nobody who is harder on me than myself. I had poor shooting performance last game, but I still made three at the end of the day. I missed my free throws last game and I didn’t miss (Saturday), so I have to take something positive out of every performance.”
DiGuilio said her work ethic was learned in the small town she grew up in.
“I’m hard-nosed … I do get bumps and bruises and a few broken bones, but (growing up in Mount Vernon) it has made me thick-skinned,” she said. “It’s where I get my mental toughness.”
All the records, the championships and 3-pointers almost never happened at CMU. DiGuilio’s dream school was a bit west of Michigan.
“My dad was a football player at the University of Hawaii and my aunt and sister had a track scholarship to Hawaii,” she said. “So that was my dream school.”
Hawaii might have been her dream, but in reality, she nearly went to Michigan State.
“I actually thought (Michigan State) was the school I was going too,” DiGuilio said. “The difference … I’m a hometown girl and this is like playing for a hometown and there was something about Coach Guevara that I still can’t put my finger on that was different. She was personable and down to Earth.”
DiGuilio remains realistic both on the court, in the classroom and in all aspects of her life.
“I’m a bio-medical major and taking every hard class you can think of,” she said. “I’m thinking I’m going to chiropractic school, but not immediately. I would love to travel in Europe and kind of live a little bit because I haven’t been able to do it.”
For now, the senior deep-threat and arguably the best shooter CMU has ever featured on a roster has one big goal directly in front of her: Leading the Chippewas to a 2014 MAC Championship and a NCAA tournament berth.