Sole Latino basketball player, coach reflect on experience in GW Athletics

Media Credit: Courtesy of GW Athletics

Laureano said she struggled with a language barrier when she first moved to Miami, as she didn’t speak a lot of English at the time.

Updated Oct. 12, 2021 at 11:12 a.m.

Junior guard Sheslanie Laureano said it was a “totally different” environment when she moved from Puerto Rico to Miami to pursue collegiate basketball.

Laureano, a transfer from Florida SouthWestern State College, was ranked as the number eight junior college prospect out of the 2021 class by World Exposure Report. During her time with the Blackbeards, Laureano averaged 15.3 points per game along with 3.6 steals, ranking in the top 10 for nearly all individual career records at Florida SouthWestern State.

Laureano started playing basketball when she was eight years old. Originally from Puerto Rico, she moved with her family to Miami during high school, as they looked for a chance for her to play at the NCAA Division I level.

Laureano began her junior year at the John A. Ferguson High School, where she met GW’s current assistant coach Gabe Lazo, the head coach of the high school team at the time. As Lazo was chosen to join incoming head coach Caroline McCombs’ staff, Laureano said she decided to tag along with him.

“He told me I can be pretty good at it so after him, I just started liking it and I wanted to be better,” Laureano said.

Laureano said she struggled with a language barrier when she first moved to Miami, as she didn’t speak a lot of English at the time. Being the only Hispanic player on the team made it hard to communicate with other players and staff members who didn’t speak Spanish.

She said the language barrier played a role in her transition to GW, which was a completely different environment from what she was accustomed to playing in.

“Coming from Puerto Rico is totally different, especially since the game is different,” Laureano said. “How we play out here is totally different, like more aggressive, and at GW the game out here is bigger but I’m ready to start.”

Laureano said she brings her skills, good luck and game visualization to the team this season. She said GW has helped her get used to the higher level of basketball, allowing her to become a better player in the preseason period.

“I came in summer and it was a little bit hard because of the different environment,” Laureano said. “But then I started getting used to it, then practice. But now official practice started, then I haven’t practiced yet because I’m injured, but it’s pretty cool.”

Lazo, who is of Cuban descent, worked alongside McCombs and assistant coach Bri Hutchen at Stony Brook, guiding the Seawolves to an America East regular season title in 2020 and a conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021.

Lazo began his basketball coaching career serving as an assistant with the women’s basketball program at Florida International for two seasons. In his first year, Lazo helped the Panthers to their best record in four seasons and most Conference USA wins in program history.

Prior to his coaching career, he played at the collegiate level with the Panthers for two seasons beginning in 2004, followed by two seasons at Barry. He said basketball has been a “life-saving experience” for him.

“The role that basketball has played in my life is a role that can never be explained – it’s unexplainable,” Lazo said. “I come from a single-family home, where basketball just paved my way, got me through school, kept me out of trouble, kept me focused. And I’ve been able to meet so many people and then educate myself because of basketball.”

Lazo said he first heard about Laureano from a Puerto Rican national team coach, who he knew from his two years playing professional basketball with Cariduros de Fajardo BSN in Puerto Rico, as her family had been interested in moving Laureano to John A. Ferguson. He said he’s been “super proud” to watch Laureano grow as a basketball player and a student since she moved from Puerto Rico.

“I think it’s the best decision her family could have ever made for her,” Lazo said. “It put her around a lot of young ladies and a lot of people socially that were going to really push her and obviously she was uncomfortable at first, but the only way to grow and learn is to be put in uncomfortable situations. So she’s definitely strived and she’s come a long way.”

He said Laureano’s rise from a humble background of living public housing in Puerto Rico to NCAA Division I athlete at GW was a “monumental” experience. He said his relationship with Laureano has been very impactful for him as he’s been able to watch her grow and join a “prestigious” university such as GW.

As a Latino coach, Lazo said he brings passion, energy and loudness to the team, shaping his coaching style with his Cuban identity and always seeking to demonstrate a loving side to the team. He said he is proud of his heritage as a Cuban-American, especially with the current political turmoil, and likes to focus on showing the success of his people.

Only of 11.5 percent of college basketball coaches are Hispanic or Latino, according to the career search website Zippia. Despite the fact that Lazo said he can count the number of Latino coaches at the university level on one hand, he said the number of Latino coaches is growing steadily.

“I do have the ability to speak Spanish and English, so I can adapt, obviously,” Lazo said. “To this day, I still quote Spanish at times with Sheslanie. So that’s never an issue, it’s actually an advantage that I have. Because I speak two languages, I’m able to recruit and to really reach out to different student athletes, and I’m able to coach them in different languages.”

Lazo said he’s never thought of his identity as a challenge, as he feels that he is living his dream gaining new opportunities and meeting new people that have allowed him to get to where he is today. He said the key to his success is staying humble and always keeping an open mind to learn from his experiences, regardless of a positive outcome.

“I’m super thankful of where I’m at, but always willing to learn and learn from your past,” Lazo said. “I think that your greatest lessons are when you hit adversity, any loss that you take, I think you learn more from it than when you win.”

This post has been updated to correct the following:

The Hatchet previously reported that Lazo is originally from Cuba. He is of Cuban descent but was not born in Cuba. We regret this error.

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