Following an impressive win over Tennessee this past Tuesday night, Shoni Schimmel and the Louisville Cardinals are headed to the 2013 Final Four. Schimmel is incredibly fun to watch and we were up on her story early, publishing the feature below back in SLAM 136 (April, 2010). There was also a movie about Schimmel produced by Hock Films in 2011, but after airing just once on TLC, it has yet to be aired again. (Hopefully that’ll change soon!) Enjoy the SLAM 136 story below and look for Schimmel and the Cards as they take on Cal in New Orleans Sunday night.—Ed.
by Wendell Maxey / @w_maxey
The plush gym on the outskirts of Portland is packed for the Interstate Shootout. The general reason for the crowds is the chance to watch some of the region’s best female high school players heat up the hardwood. The more specific reason for the presence of texting teens and college coaches is to catch The Shoni Schimmel Show in action.
While channeling her inner Professor, Schimmel, Franklin High’s 5-9 senior point guard, pushes a three-on-two fast break, brings the ball around her back twice and finishes with a right-handed sling pass to her sister Jude—a fundamentally sound 5-6 junior guard—cutting in from her left for a layup. The air fills with oohs and ahhs. But for Shoni, it is basically another play in a basketball game.
“I kind of go with the flow,” says the 17-year-old Schimmel, who ranks as one of the top prospects in the country and is considering offers from Oregon, Louisville, UCLA, California, Rutgers and Oklahoma, while Colorado, Michigan State, Washington and South Carolina remain options.
“I just play. I don’t think about it. I just go out there and do it.”
Shoni’s story is easily unrivaled. It’s where the vintage AND 1 Mixtape Tour meets Sherman Alexie and produces a passion for the game and love of her Native American heritage.
Last November, before Shoni’s junior year, her family moved off the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian reservation after Shoni’s mother, Ceci Moses, took the head coaching job with the Franklin Quakers. Before transferring from Hermiston High School in Eastern Oregon, Schimmel led the Bulldogs to second place at the 5A state tournament in 2008.
So when Moses—a former community college player and mother of eight children—chose a new life for her family off the reservation, she also inherited a program with a measly four wins the previous two years.
With the move, Shoni did more than overcome a Native American stereotype by adjusting to life off the reservation: She helped turn Franklin into a contender.
In her first year, flashing an array of no-look passes, crossovers and NBA-length three-pointers in an open-court offense that would make Mike D’Antoni blush, Shoni led the Quakers to a 21-5 record and the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) state tourney for the first time in school history.
“My goal was to win five games our first year. Seriously, five,” says Moses, laughing at the notion. “But we make people believe. I want my girls to know this is about more than just basketball. This is about life.”
Shoni’s basketball life began at the age of 4 when she started playing in community youth tournaments on the reservation. By middle school, she was running against her older brother Shae, whom Shoni credits with molding her game thanks to some AND 1 mixtapes. Soon, “Sho” was traveling with her mom’s AAU team and showcasing the freestyle flow she plays with today.
“I’m more like a ‘rez ball’ player. I just go out there and whatever happens, happens,” Shoni begins nonchalantly. “On the rez, it’s really different because you just play pick-up games. You win, you stay on. But this kind of basketball is more organized. People are more situated. It’s different, but I’m the same because I just go out there and play.”
Rick Schimmel, Shoni’s father and an assistant at Franklin, says his daughter “feels a lot of ownership and knows the focus is on her and does not want to fail, disappoint or let people down. At the same time, she wants to be in control.”
Shoni’s basketball and athletic roots run deep. Much like her mother, Shoni’s grandmother and great-grandmother played basketball on the reservation and have passed on tales of being allowed only two dribbles. Shoni is also the granddaughter of Rollin Schimmel, a renowned NAIA wrestler in Eastern Oregon. Now, Shoni and Jude proudly represent the rez off and on the floor.
“She’s like my right-hand man,” Shoni says of her younger sister, who was the PIL 6A Player of the Year last season after Shoni missed seven weeks with an ankle injury. “We’ve played with each other since we were little. We like knowing each other are there.”
Thanks to the Schimmel sisters, Franklin is back in the winning business. A month into the ’09-10 season, Shoni is averaging better than 40 ppg, including a 48-point game in which she hit 11 three-pointers. “Most of the time, I can tell it’s going in when it leaves my hand,” says the girl many consider a female incarnation of “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
Still, Shoni remains immune to the limelight, even while wearing a battery pack and microphone as part of her daily attire. Since leaving the reservation, the Schimmel family’s life has been captured by Hock Films, whose namesake Jonathan Hock famously documented Sebastian Telfair’s rise from the projects to the pros in the ’05 film, Through the Fire.
“Shoni takes it in stride. She knows this movie isn’t going to give meaning to her life that otherwise isn’t there,” explains Hock, who will condense roughly 350 hours of footage into a 90-minute feature, Off the Rez, this summer before entering it into various film festivals.
Minutes after another Franklin victory, Shoni leans against a tan brick wall in a suburban high school hallway with a video camera peering from afar. As she deflects steady praise with a signature smile, her coach and mother, Ceci, casually interrupts an impromptu interview by telling Shoni it’s time to go.
After all, her journey is just beginning.