Jude Schimmel is a high school superstar basketball player in Portland, Oregon, but her parents are used to the kind of attention that comes with that status since Jude’s older sister, Shoni, was a high school hoops demigoddess in Portland last year.
Shoni is now a star at the University of Louisville, and the big question all basketball season was, “Where will Jude go next year?” She considered several schools and many wooed her, but Jude wants to play against the best and with the best, so when Louisville offered her a scholarship, her decision was easy to make. Jude will be a Cardinal next fall. P
Perhaps the best way to get a sense of Jude’s abilities on the court is to ask an opposing coach, someone who has had the good fortune of watching her play—and the bad fortune of coaching against her.
Ed Marcell coaches at Cleveland High School, a rival of Franklin High School, where Jude played and where her mother, Ceci Moses, has been the coach for the past three years. “When both those girls came to the Portland area I already knew about Shoni but we didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Jude,” Ed said with a laugh. “When we played them the first year, Shoni was injured so I got to meet Jude. Early in the game, I was on the bench talking with one of my players and I saw Jude stop in front of me. I thought she was stopping to pass the ball. Almost at half-court, she put the ball up for a shot and when it went in I was stunned,” he laughed again. “It totally blew my mind she had so much range for her size. Not only that but she can dribble and shoot with both hands. Watching this young lady play, I was in awe. She’s petite and doesn’t look like a basketball player but once she gets on the court, you can’t stop her.”
Jude will graduate this spring with a GPA above 3.8, and her success in both the classroom and on the hardwood is even more amazing when you learn that she skipped a grade. Her mother explains: “Jude skipped eighth grade to have one more year to play with Shoni. The school advised her against it but it’s up to the parents and the child, and she aced her grades and is able to get along with people, so she did it. Basketball was definitely not an issue. She loves the game, but she did all of this, really, because she wanted to play with Shoni for three years. A lot of Indians think with their hearts and not with their minds. In the non-Indian world, a lot of people would say that’s kind of foolish thinking, but we’re just not like that.”
Dana Miller, Jude’s French teacher for the last three years, said, “She’s an amazing student, one of those kids who gets things so easily. Today we were attacking some new material that’s not very easy. She just sits there and scrunches up her face, but the questions she asks are so precise, she homes right in on the material. Like when she plays, she knows exactly where the problems are and what questions to ask herself to put herself in a successful position.” Miller added, “She’s also one of the nicest kids we have in school.”
Coach Marcell agreed: “Jude is a nice person with a nice disposition and always has a smile on her face while she’s kicking my team’s butt. She was playing on a sprained ankle against us the other day, basically playing on one leg, and she beat us all by herself. This young lady has been in so many game situations and she never gets rattled. She has a very high IQ for the basketball court and the vision to see all her teammates.”
Ceci said, “Jude’s strength to me is, to quote my husband Rick, ‘dynamite comes in small packages.’ That’s totally her. She does things that girls six-foot-two, six-foot-three do. She outrebounds them.”
Jude is listed at five-foot-six but that may be stretching it. She led her team in every category: scoring, assists, steals, rebounding, and scored over 30 in eight games this season, with a high of 51, and averaged 28.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 7.2 steals and two blocks a game. When asked what facet of her game she was most proud of, she said, “I would say the well-rounded thing. I try to do everything and don’t focus on just one thing.”
Shawn Spencer is a well-respected coach of girls basketball on the Nez Perce Reservation and has known Jude and Shoni a long time. When asked to compare them, he said, “They’re both fantastic players. They get results but in different ways. Shoni’s flashy, Hollywood-style. Jude is blue-collar, hard-working, gets the results, but in a little different way.”
Jude said she’s heard it said that Shoni is the flashier one on the basketball court. “I’d agree a little bit,” she said. “She’s more tricky with what she does.”
One need only peruse Shoni’s YouTube highlights to see evidence of this; behind-the-back and no-look passes come easily to her. Their dad, Rick, said, “Jude may be even more fierce on the court than Shoni, if that’s possible. The difference is that Shoni’s passion, intensity and emotions are very easily seen in her play. Jude’s demeanor is much quieter, but her will to win is incomparable.” Otherwise he sees their styles as similar.
“They both love to play fast. They can shoot the three-pointers. They both handle the ball with amazing skill. They pride themselves on defense, understanding that pressing, steals and rebounds ignite the fast break and opportunities to score and they both enjoy an assist as much as a basket of their own. Shoni’s more creative but Jude may be more dangerous with the ball.”
The statistics both girls posted during their senior seasons in high school are remarkably similar, just as the girls are amazingly compatible. “They were probably the closest people I’ve ever seen get along,” Ceci said. “They help each other. Shoni was the more dominant one. Jude’s not passive, but it wasn’t her job—and she didn’t care if it was her job—to be the boss. Jude is more laid back and goes with the flow. She’s always been Shoni’s right-hand man.”
Jude and Shoni both lived on the Umatilla reservation in northeastern Oregon—with a basketball hoop outside their house—until three years ago, when Ceci took the coaching job in Portland. Their early life was pretty typical of kids on reservations, including pow wow life, and both girls were involved with the Happy Canyon Indian Pageant at the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo. As they got older, Shoni worked in the summer youth recreation program for the tribe and Jude worked for tribal day care. But sports were in their blood and increasingly took them away from other tribal activities. A lot of hours were spent outside on their driveway hoop and they traveled to many Pacific Northwest Indian reservations for Indian tournaments and three-on-three tournaments as well. Both were also successful in Little League softball—Shoni played in the Little League Softball World Series one year and Jude helped her team win the state tournament the following year. Both were pitcher/shortstops, with Jude more of a pitcher and Shoni more of a shortstop.
“When they were young, Shoni and Jude pretended they were the Houston Comets. Shoni was Cynthia Cooper; Jude was Sheryl Swoopes,” their dad recalled. “They all had Comets jerseys. Jude always played in Shoni’s shadow, but Jude would never back down from the chance to take charge.”
They also played on the American Horse basketball team, an all-Indian girls team. “Jude was always one of the youngest and smallest on the team,” Rick said. “One year they finished an AAU season and a season of Indian tournaments with a record of 40-2. It was an eighth-grade age limit, and Jude was fifth grade and Shoni seventh at the time. Our girls would be a foot smaller and often much younger than their opponents, and an opponent would look at them and become confident. The game would start and these little Indian girls would full-court press and fast break and shoot threes at a furious pace and would dominate most teams. So far, every one of those girl has graduated from high school on time. Five of the seven graduates have gone on to play college basketball. All were from the Umatilla Reservation.”
Shoni said, “It’s almost sickening how much talent is on the reservation.” Ceci agreed. “There’s so much beauty and talent and smarts on the reservation, but a lot of people just don’t want to go out into the non-Indian world.” Asked whether the paucity of Indian athletes playing college ball was due to reluctance to leave the reservation community or a matter of college coaches reluctant to scout and recruit there, Ceci said, “I think it’s both, but I told my kids, If you’ve got talent and keep your grades up you can see the world, get a free education, meet people.”
Phil Homeratha, longtime coach at Haskell Indian Nations University, said that athletes hoping to play at the D-I or D-II levels of college athletics have to meet fairly rigid standards for GPA and SAT scores, and many Indian athletes fail to meet them. “More importantly, if you come from a reservation, you’re likely not going to have the social skills that it takes in DI or DII. You’re fitting into a larger, more dominant society. People are more aggressive. You’ve got to communicate. Also, with Indian parents I think there’s just too much freedom. If their kid’s not happy in school, they say, ‘Come on home’. It’s too much of a nurturing, mentoring thing.”
GinaMarie Scarpa, a co-founder and the current chief executive officer of the Native American Basketball Invitational, said, “Shoni is definitely correct. We found that the talent on Native land was enormous, but for the Native Americans who go on to college there is a very high percentage of dropouts. It all has to do with being off the rez, missing home, the culture. It’s really hard.”
Neither Jude nor Shoni are likely to drop out—Shoni said she is adjusting well to college life. “I moved to Portland for the last two years of high school. That was part of my adjustment. Coming to Louisville has just been a bigger step in that, but it hasn’t been bad. It’s a great opportunity and I’m excited to be here and go through it all. It’s different because it’s college basketball, playing against people who are more on my level every game. It’s exciting to play against people like [former UConn superstar] Maya Moore and other people like that because growing up I used to watch them on TV.”
It’s also exciting to contemplate what the future may hold for Jude and Shoni on the court, since Louisville went to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament this spring and lost only two players to graduation. Could a national title be in their future? Having sisters—strong young Native women—at the forefront of a championship-caliber college basketball team has probably never happened before, so you can bet Indian country will be following the Louisville Cardinals for the next few years. The Cardinals will play a game in Portland next season, and it’s a safe bet the stands will be full of fans from Jude and Shoni’s high school days.
Shawn Spencer said, “Everybody’s planning a trip to Portland next year when they play there.” That’s a long road trip from Idaho’s Nez Perce Reservation. It’s a lot like the journey Jude and Shoni have already made—and they still have many more exciting journeys ahead of them.