BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There was a time this summer when Indiana's sports information director asked Ali Patberg what she thought of the Hoosiers' newest transfer, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary.
Patberg answered with, "I haven't seen her."
Due to COVID-19 protocols, Indiana would work out in the weight room in small groups, so the team was separated from one another for much of the offseason.
"The lack of being with your teammates, especially being so new, was pretty hard I would say," Cardaño-Hillary said. "But I think that every person on the team did an incredible job of reaching out."
The team would text and FaceTime and do as much as they could to make sure everyone on the team felt included despite being separated into different groups.
"The amount of reaching out that the girls did for me stood out a lot," Cardaño-Hillary said. "I'm just very excited to have picked Indiana. It was definitely the right choice."
Cardaño-Hillary transferred to Indiana from George Mason, where she enjoyed an impressive three-year career.
In her final game at George Mason last season, she became the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,766 career points.
Now at Indiana, where she took no tours of the campus and had a choppy offseason, Cardaño-Hillary has started to find her role with the Hoosiers.
She made her debut against Tennessee after the NCAA granted all transfers this year a waiver to be eligible to play. She started out coming off the bench for Indiana, fulfilling the role as the backup point guard.
But after Jaelynn Penn went down with an injury against Maryland, Cardaño-Hillary has started the last three games for Indiana. With her and Patberg in the starting lineup together, head coach Teri Moren is able to run Patberg off the ball a bit more than usual.
"I think Ali is benefiting from having Nikki on the floor," Moren said. "What she's providing for our team right now is another facilitator. Someone that can get inside that zone and find open people on the outside. Also, I think she's very confident in her ability to take care of the basketball and be one of our primary ball-handlers. It's nice to have two point guards on the floor really."
Cardaño-Hillary was a pure scorer at George Mason, but her role at Indiana has been a little different. As Moren mentioned, her ability to be a true point guard has really helped Indiana's offense over the past couple of the games. The Hoosiers are currently on a three-game winning streak and have won each of those games by double digits.
Cardaño-Hillary is averaging six points per game with the Hoosiers right now, but she hasn't had any problem adjusting to what her role is with Indiana.
"Coming here I knew I was going to have a different role," Cardaño-Hillary said. "I'm just excited that I was trusted to take on this role that I have. It's not as much scoring, but really at the end of the day, I'm really here to help my teammates and help our team reach the goals we've set for ourselves."