When the Louisville Cardinals played in the recent 2013 NCAA women's basketball tournament championship final against powerhouse UConn, few in Indian country could contain their excitement. Though the Cardinals, a fifth-seed, the lowest to ever make it to the national title game, lost, it wasn’t before star guard sisters Jude and Shoni Schimmel, Umatilla, made a lasting impression on hoops fans on an international level–and especially in Indian country.
After the giant-slaying, Cinderella story that was the Cardinals unprecendented run through the NCAA tournament, ICTMN sought out some of the best and brightest Native basketball players and pioneers to have them share their feelings about the euphoria surrounding the Schimmel Show and to give us a picture of what the state of Native basketball–rez ball–is today.
In the course of our search, we spoke with the first Native American basketball player for the University of Arizona, Cliff Johns, Navajo; Kansas Jayhawks point guard Angel Goodrich, Cherokee, who recently became only the second Native player drafted in WNBA history; Ryneldi Becenti, Navajo, the first Native WNBA player who also became the first woman inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame; two-time Continental Basketball Association champion Richard Dionne, Yakama; GinaMarie Scarpa, co-founder and chief executive officer of the NABI Foundation, the huge Native basketball tournment that has launched future stars like Goodrich; the high-flyin' slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, Choctaw, and of course, Jude and Shoni Schimmel.
ICTMN will be running these Conversations With Champions as a series, over the next couple of weeks, culminating with our talk with the Schimmel Show itself. Here are excerpts of what's to come, focused on the sensational Sho-Time sisters…
When first speaking to Jude and Shoni, they admitted they did not realize the full extent of the attention given to their progress in their quest for the NCAA championship.
“We heard some of the hype,” said Jude. “We had interviews while we were at the tournament, but we really haven't experienced it fully hands-on. There were a ton of Native Americans that came to our hotel to get autographs.”
When speaking with other basketball players in Indian country, they expressed admiration for the accomplishments of Jude and Shoni.
“The incredible passion they had for the sport and the love they have for it, it was really inspiring when I saw that,” said former U of A player Johns. “It is something that we wish for kids.”
“Shoni was the first one that I heard about a few years ago,” said Dionne. “I got to watch her at a three on three tournament. To see her talent and the passing ability that she had, she was way ahead of everybody else. I didn't know she had a sister until she had signed at Louisville. They have done some amazing things,” he said.
According to Goodrich, who made it to the Sweet Sixteen with the University of Kansas, says that seeing other Native American ballplayers enjoying what they are doing, “is awesome.”
“Jude and Shoni, they have accomplished so much and making it to the final four is such a great accomplishment. I am really happy for them. They surprised a lot of people. I love to see stuff like that. I totally give them props for what they did. I just hope they continue to do big things and show people what Native Americans can do,” says Goodrich.
Scarpa noted both the Schimmels' and Goodrich's amazing performances in 2013. “I’ve been following Angel ever since she played in NABI. I knew she had what it took to accomplish being drafted into the WNBA. Even with her injuries and though she could have given up, she didn’t! Perseverance was the key and she never gave up!”
“As for Shoni and Jude, they showed the world “rez ball.” They demonstrated the style, talent and determination of Native American athletes. I think the sports world will start taking notice, finally. They changed the game and brought hope to all of our athletes,” says Scarpa.
Becenti also expressed her excitement for the accomplishments of Jude and Shoni.
“It was a great feeling to watch them on TV. They represented Native Americans and youth that want to be like them. I hope it gives them that much more motivation to excel. I hope these college coaches can now take this chance and opportunity to go to reservations and look for more talented young girls,” says Becenti. “I think there is a bright future now, I really do.”
According to the two sisters who fought so hard to achieve a dream held by so many, “To go out there and represent the Native American people just by playing basketball and for us to do something we both love and get so much out of? It’s just a privilege for us,” says Shoni.
“Playing basketball is something we've done all our lives and we love it so it's not really hard,” says Jude. “It is a privilege and a blessing.”