The hidden tourneys: Independent basketball in Indian Country

By Brandon Ecoffey , Native Sun News Managing Editor

Tourneys like this one hosted as a fundraiser in Batesland, have become part of Native American basketball culture. PHOTO BY/Brandon Ecoffey
Tourneys like this one hosted as a fundraiser in Batesland, have become part of Native American basketball culture. PHOTO BY/Brandon Ecoffey

PINE RIDGE— The notoriety of the unique passion and style with which Native people play the sport of basketball has grown with the successes of college athletes like Jude and Shoni Schimmel. However the oversimplification of the term “Rez Ball” that has been tied to the two star guards for the University of Louisville has left out many aspects of Indian Country’s connections to the game, including those that are fostered at independently run basketball tournaments all across the country.

Stereotypical portrayals of Native America are often infused with images of black and white photographs from the pre-reservation era showing tribal members in traditional regalia. In representations of contemporary Native America the mainstream news cycle is often flooded with photographs of dire poverty and gang life. These elements do exist in Indian Country but what is often left out is the everyday life lived by many in predominately Native communities that is infused with the sport of basketball.

Although basketball was first brought to most reservation communities by Christian missionaries as an incentive or outlet to the harsh assimilationist policies within boarding schools the sport has been embraced throughout Native America.

For some like Beau Cuevas, a Mni Coujou Lakota, who has played the game his whole life basketball, holds a special place within him.

“For me it’s a way to relax because on that court nothing else matters it’s you and 9 others guys going to battle. It’s the only other place besides Inipi (sweat lodge) and Sundance that I feel at home, it’s a brotherhood,” said Cuevas.

One phenomenon that has been present in Indian Country since as early as the 1900’s has been the formation of travelling teams made up of Native American ball players. Possibly the earliest recorded Native American independent basketball team in history hailed from Fort Shaw, Montana. The team that was comprised of women competed in the 1904 World’s fair in St. Louis and helped to create interest in the game of basketball.

Throughout the year athletes from around Indian Country participate in both local and national basketball tournaments held in all parts of the U.S. The participants in these reservation or urban Indian community based tournaments vary from former high school stars, to successful Divisions 1 athletes, street ball legends and even potential NBA prospects like Luke Martinez who played at the University of Wyoming.

Occasionally in tournaments where tribal enrollment verification is not required high caliber non-Native participants are also brought in by Native teams to compete as demonstrated by sightings of former University of Wisconsin star Jordan Taylor at a tournament held at Indian Center in Minneapolis, MN and former South Dakota State University forward Tony Fiegan who played in one in Rapid City, SD last spring.

Cooper Kirkie a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe who is one of the many talents who travel across the country to play in these tournaments says that the talent level playing is comparable to that of the NBA’s Developmental league or some of the pro leagues in Europe.

“With more and more Natives playing division 1 ball it is really getting to be good talent in these tournaments. The ones who are playing college ball and don’t go on to play after are the first round draft picks for these teams. Usually someone sees them play and someone else will know their auntie or cousin and call them up and bring them out,” said Kirkie.

Kirkie has travelled to over a dozen states including Florida, Washington, and Wisconsin to play in Native tournaments and feels that his desire to travel, that he inherited from his Grandmother, would have went unfulfilled without basketball.

“I am really blessed to be able to travel and see different parts of the country that without basketball I may not have ever been able to experience,” he said. “There are just so many good players out there is feels good to be able to go to other nations and compete against what they have. It is like counting coup. It isn’t about being violent or disrespectful it’s just going out and doing our best.”

With the arrival of gaming and energy dollars in to Indian Country the dynamics of these teams have begun to change as well as the sponsorships. The team Kirkie is on receives its funding from tribal members who are enrolled in a Florida based casino tribe who pays for the team to fly to and from tournaments throughout the year with per cap dollars generated by the tribal members’ casinos. The sponsorship money is a welcome relief from days past when Cooper was forced to gather money on his own.

“I remember when I first got started and I had to either save up money all the time or approach the tribe and ask them for $200. Sometimes they would give us that and we would get together some food stamps and we would travel on that,” he said. “The thing about our sponsors is that they are really good hearted people who do this because they like to see us play and they like to spend family time together with us. It isn’t like if we play a bad game that this is going to stop. It isn’t about that and it feels good playing with no pressure and being with family.”

Some tournaments are of the small scale where local teams converge to compete against fellow tribal members for jackets, sweaters, and occasionally t-shirts. However independent basketball has begun to take on a new feel with the onset of the same casino and energy dollars that sponsor Kirkie’s team being funneled in to the circuit with some tournaments awarding as much as $10,000 and custom designed Pendleton jackets to the winners. Recently the team Iron Boy which featured former Cheyenne Eagle Butte standout and Pine Ridge Native Daelan High Wolf took home the $10,000 prize at the March Madness tournament in Dells, Wisconsin.

The reasoning behind the creation of these tournaments varies from event to event. Some are local fundraisers while others are for competition but one authentically Native aspect of the Native Independent basketball circuit is using the game and the events as a way of memorializing lost loved ones. Travis Albers hosts a tournament each year in Bismarck, North Dakota honor of his brother Tanner who past away from cancer several years ago. Tanner was a star player in South Dakota alongside Travis, both would play together at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. Just this last year Tanner was inducted in to the school’s hall of fame. For Travis who himself is veteran of the independent hoops trails the memorial tournament he runs is bigger than just basketball.

“Me and my brother had been playing basketball together since we could walk. It was something we did together, we did everything together,” said Albers. “When I have this tournament it isn’t just basketball. I want people to come and talk about memories they had of him and to talk about how he treated them good and remember things other than basketball.”

Travis and Tanner would play together with each other at all levels of the game including college and then with one of the more storied independent teams, Iron Five, for more than ten years together. For Travis the independent game has changed but it is still something that serves a purpose within Native communities.

“We have have a lot of athletes who could go on to play at higher levels but for whatever reason they sometimes get pulled back. But for those on the reservation they are still stars. Some of them are like NBA players to us but the tournaments are good ways to gather to remember the ones the passed away,” he said.

Shoni Schimmel Leads Team with 21 Points in Victory; Jude Schimmel Out with Ankle Injury

Levi Rickert, Native News Network

Shoni Schimmel
Shoni Schimmel

LOUISVILLE — Louisville Cardinals Shoni Schimmel scored 21 points on Saturday to lead her team in a 64-45 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

Saturday’s game was the third in which Schimmel has scored more than 20 points in a game. Her season-high was 30 points against Colorado two weeks ago.

The 5’9” senior guard had five three-pointers as part of her 21 points.

Jude Schimmel out with injured ankle.

Jude Schimmel out with injured ankle.


Her sister, Jude, a junior guard did not play Saturday due to an ankle injury she sustained during practice on Friday nig

“Jude sprained her last night as she was shooting extra shots in the gym. She put a shot up and got the rebound and came down on her ankle. We had some x-rays done and we are waiting to get the results completely read. They looked at the x-rays here and didn’t see anything, but we will send those off to a specialist,” said Louisville Coach Jeff Walz.

The two sisters are tribal citizens of the Confederated Tribe of Umatilla Indians.

With the win over Cincinnati the Cardinals have won eight straight games, the longest winning streak since the beginning of the 2012-13 season when Louisville won eight to open the season.

The No.7 Cardinals improve to 15-1 this season with a victory over Cincinnati, which ties the record for the best start in the first 16 games of a season. Louisville was 15-1 during both the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons.

The next Cardinals game is next Saturday, January 12, 2014 against USF in Tampa, Florida at 3:00 p.m. – EST. It will be televised nationally on ESPNU.


Jude Schimmel Nominated for the Allstate Good Works Team



Umatilla Jude Schimmel
Umatilla Jude Schimmel

Native News Online, December 4, 2013

LOUISVILLE – Louisville women’s basketball junior guard Jude Schimmel was nominated for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Allstate Good Works Team, announced on Tuesday.

Schimmel is a tribal member of the Confederated Tribe of Umatilla Indians, based in Pendleton, Oregon.

The award recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service. In its second year, the Allstate WBCA and NABC Good Works Teams® honor players at all levels of college basketball who represent the sport’s finest in the areas of leadership and charitable achievements amongst their peers. The student-athletes nominated for this prestigious award embody the true spirit of teamwork and giving back.

From the 84 WBCA nominees and 118 NABC nominees submitted by coaches and sports information directors across the nation on behalf of their schools, special voting panels will select two 10-member teams comprised of five student-athletes from the NCAA® Division I level and five student-athletes from NCAA® Divisions II, III and the NAIA. The final roster of 20 award recipients will be unveiled in February.

The 2014 nominees uphold impressive service resumes detailing unique and inspiring stories of servitude. From volunteering with sick and underprivileged children to lobbying state legislature for new laws that could help save lives, this exceptional group of young men and women demonstrate the positive impact student-athletes can have on and off the court.

Schimmel has been a leader on the basketball court and an active member in the community as well as a role model in the American Indian community. When she began playing at Louisville, Schimmel made occasional speaking appearances at reservations and conferences around the country. After the Cardinals’ run to the 2013 national championship game, Schimmel traveled to speak at 17 Indian reservations in nine states, shaking hands, taking pictures and delivering an encouraging message to American Indian populations.

“When Native Americans come to our games, they are like, `Our kids look up to you. You are the biggest inspiration’,” said Schimmel. “It means a lot to us. We’re just trying to do better and be better not only for us but because we want other Native Americans to know they can do it, too.”

Schimmel has become one of the most reliable ball handlers, scorers and defenders for Louisville this year. She also won the Elite 89 academic award last season as the player with the highest grade-point average (3.737) participating in the Final Four.

Schimmel Showtime at Tulalip



Shoni and Jude made a stop in Tulalip for some ball time with their fans.

Ron Iukes, Tulalip’s Youth Services Specialist, preps the kids for the Schimmel’s arrival.
Photo by Monica Brown

By Monica Brown, Tulalip News writer


TULALIP, Wa- Sisters, Shoni and Jude Shimmel, who are known for bringing “rez ball” to college basketball courts, are touring Indian country this summer before they head back to the University of Louisville for fall quarter.  During their tour the duo planned a visit to Tulalip Reservation’s, Don Hatch Gym. Shoni and Jude came to meet their fans and motivate the Tulalip kids into dedicating more passion when playing basketball, or any sport in general.


Kids and fans alike packed the gym on Saturday August 17th to meet the famous Shimmel sisters and practice with them. Fans donned their Native pride shirts, with backs that read, “Shimmel Showtime”. A reference that recalls the memory of the “Shimmel Show”, a nationally televised game from this past year in which Louisville Cardinals beat the Tennessee Lady Vols 86 to 78, and the Schimmel sisters scored a combined 39 points throughout the game which was dubbed “Shimmel Show” by ESPN.


Schimmel Showtime event gave Tulalip youngsters to meet and learn from sisters Jude and Shoni, mom Ceci on far right.
Schimmel Showtime event gave Tulalip youngsters to meet and learn from sisters Jude and Shoni, mom Ceci on far right.

The Shimmel sisters have been named the “Umatilla Thrilla” because they come from the Umatilla Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon and demonstrate the “rez ball” technique in their play. Rez ball, not something you would normally see in use on professional courts, is a playing style where the players are more aggressive, they move at a fast, consistent tempo to complete quick scoring and maintain an assertive defense.

Shoni and her father Rick directed kids as they ran lines during the practice portion of the event.
Shoni and her father Rick directed kids as they ran lines during the practice portion of the event.
Photo by Monica Brown
Photo by Monica Brown
Kids were given tips from Shoni about how to improve their form as they practiced making baskets.
Kids were given tips from Shoni about how to improve their form as they practiced making baskets.
Photo by Monica Brown


Schimmel Sisters to Attend ESPN’s ESPYs Award Show July 17th

Brent Cahwee,

LOS ANGELES – Shoni Schimmel and younger sister Jude will be in attendance for the 2013 ESPN’s ESPYs Award show slated later this month on July 17th in Los Angeles, California.

Jude and Shoni Schimmel

Jude and Shoni Schimmel during the Sweet 16 round of the women’s NCAA basketball tournament. – photo by Rhonda LeValdo


The annual award show highlights many of the past year’s defining sports moments in which fan voting determines the award winners in each category. The University of Louisville Cardinal’s women’s basketball team is up for the “Best Upset” of the year award for the game in which they defeated, then number one and defending national champions Baylor Bears, in the Sweet 16 round of the women’s NCAA tournament. The game was highlighted by an acrobatic layup by Shoni in which she took on player of the year Brittney Griner in what became an ESPN top 10 highlight for the tournament.

Competing for the same award category will be Florida Gulf Coast University’s upset win over the Georgetown Hoya’s in the men’s NCAA tournament, Texas A&M over Alabama from college football, and the Pacquiao vs Marquez “Champion of the decade” fight in which Marquez was the victor.

Although the Lady Cardinal team was selected for this award, not all of the Cardinal squad will be an attendance. Current head coach Jeff Walz will attend along with Shoni & Jude, Sara Hammond, Bria Smith and Antonita Slaughter.

“It’s exciting to know that Shoni and Jude were able to play in a game of this status. I think it will be an upset that people reflect on for many years not only in Women’s basketball, but also in the sports world in general,”

said Rick Schimmel, the father of the Schimmel sisters.

“Louisville beating Baylor was as big an upset as anyone could ever imagine. It was a thrilling game to watch and it’s exciting to know that they are being nominated for an ESPY for their victory over the Player of the Year and the defending National Champion.”

This year’s host for the ESPY’s will be Jon Hamm who will be accompanied by the usual all-star lineup of top athletes and entertainers.

Voting for the ESPY’s will continue all the way up until the start of the award show and end at 9:00 pm eastern time. Anyone wishing to place a vote for the Schimmels and the Louisville Cardinals for the “Best Upset” of the year award can do so by visiting the ESPY’s voting website at »

Schimmel Family to Kick Off National UNITY Conference in July

WOODLAND HILLS, CALIFORNIA – Attendees of the UNITY conference next month will see and hear firsthand one of the most inspiring role models in Indian country as Jude Schimmel addresses them.

Jude Schimmel

Jude Schimmel averaged 5.7 points per game and lead the team in assists with 106.


Jude Schimmel is a star on the basketball court and in the university classroom.

Louisville Cardinals super sixth woman, sophomore guard Jude Schimmel, who won the Elite 89 award for the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, will kick off the National UNITY Conference along with her parents Rick and Ceci Schimmel to be held in the greater Los Angeles area from July 12-16, 2013.

The Elite 89 is presented to the student athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average participating in the NCAA championship finals.

Schimmel, who is majoring in sociology, currently carries a 3.737 grade point average, which is the highest GPA among all players in the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four.

For the season, Jude averages 5.7 points per game and leads the team in assists with 106.

The Louisville women’s team lost to UConn in the national championship game last April. Jude’s sister Shoni is unable to attend as she will be playing in the World University Games in Russia.

Jude Schimmel

Jude Schimmel in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship game


As many as 1200 Native American Youth Leaders from throughout the U.S. are expected to attend the UNITY conference in Woodland Hills just outside of LA.

Other confirmed keynote speakers include: The 1491s comedy group, Alex Shulte LPGA golfer, Charles Pierson CEO, Big Brothers and Big Sisters Leroy Not Afraid Crow Nation Legislative Branch, Justice of the Peace, and Deborah Parker, Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes.

The lineup of this year’s Speakers is gearing up to make this National UNITY conference one of the best ever.

Shoni and Jude Schimmel “It’s Time to Dance”

Published in Indian Gaming Magazine
By Steve Cadue May 2013

For two hours in early April, the largest draw at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in northeastern Oregon wasn’t at a poker table but on a ballroom’s big screen. The casino, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, sponsored a viewing party to watch two of the tribes own compete in the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship.

Playing for the University of Louisville, sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel have become heroes to Native Americans and that native pride is resonating throughout not only their 2,800-member tribe but throughout Indian Country. Louisville’s remarkable run ended with a 93-60 heartbreaking loss to the University of Connecticut, but the sisters’ feat and their continued play will serve as an inspiration for generations in Indian Country.

“We are extremely proud of Shoni and Jude Schimmel and deeply appreciative of the recognition they have brought to our people,” said LesMinthorn, the Tribe’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The sisters’ love of the game is evident when their playing in a national championship game or in a pick up game at home which can include anyone from their four-year-old brother to their mother and father. “On any given day, I think we’re just ready to play ball,” said Shoni, a 5’9” junior guard. “That’s our competitive nature in us. We just want to go out there and win. We just want to have fun and compete.”

Basketball runs in the Schimmel family’s blood. The sisters’ father, Rick, played for one year at Stanford University and their mother, Ceci, a high school basketball coach played ball for Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon. The sisters began playing ball at around four years old in a co-ed basketball tournament for four-to-six year old players. Pushed in particular by their older brother, Shae, the sisters continued to improve their game and were later the subject of a documentary, “Off the Rez” that featured the Schimmel family leaving the reservation in pursuit of more opportunities for the family.

During her highly successful high school basketball career, Shoni opted to wait until after her senior year to choose a college. Unlike most highly sought after recruits, Shoni said she made the decision to wait because she wanted to enjoy being in high school. “I decided to go to the University of Louisville because – through the recruiting process – Coach (Jeff)Walz and staff stayed with me through the whole thing,” said Shoni describing the respect shown to her by Louisville. “They stayed with me and kept interest and didn’t give up on me.”

When Jude was ready to choose a college, she decided to follow her sister. “It’s really rare to get to play a Division I sport with your sister and I wanted to share the experience with her,” said Jude, a 5’6” sophomore guard.

In August 2011, the Louisville women’s basketball team visited the Umatilla Reservation on their way to Canada to play in a tournament. During the three-day visit, the team held a basketball clinic for youth and visited with tribal leaders. The team also visited the tribe’s Tamastslikt Cultural Institute for a tour of the museum and to learn tribal history and legends.

“Everyone wanted to see what the reservation was all about,” said Shoni noting that some teammates thought tribal members still lived in teepees. The trip was unifying for the team and for the sisters. “It was weird to have our immediate family and our basketball team family there,” Shoni said. “But it all came together. It was the best of both worlds.”

For both, the most remarkable moment in this year’s NCAA tournament run was the 82-81 defeat of the defending national champions Baylor Bears. Going in a 24-point underdog in a Sweet 16 match up, the charge was uphill for the fifth-seeded Louisville team. Late in the game, Shoni ran a fast break and defending the basket was 6’8” Britney Griner. Shoni drove the key, dribbled left and with her back to Griner and the hoop – she popped a shot off the glass for two. The shot exemplifies the next level game. Griner didn’t know what happened and she would have to review the film to see what would be the most exciting play of the tournament.

“We worked as a team and it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Shoni said. “It was very special to all of us and it was amazing to feel like that.” Jude echoed her sister’s sentiments. “It was an incredible feeling and one of the biggest upsets in history,” Jude said.

The sisters’ credit their family for their success and for their strong connection to their tribe. As children, they dressed in traditional regalia handcrafted by their great grandmother and performed the Lord’s Prayer in sign language at local churches. The sisters’ younger family members continue to wear

the regalia as part of their family traditions. The sisters also credit much of their tribal knowledge to their grandmothers and father.

The pair used to dance when they were younger at tribal events such as the tribes’ Fourth of July powwow held at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino. However, the sisters’ college courses and basketball schedule may keep them from attending this year’s powwow.

Both do plan to one day possibly work for their tribe. First, each would like to be in the WNBA or play professionally overseas. However, Shoni, a communications major, and Jude, a sociology major, would like to eventually use their degrees to help Native people on the reservation.

“We both want to give back,” said Jude of returning to the reservation. Shoni also is considering the possibility of opening a restaurant that features traditional Native foods. “I want to make it known that we have our own foods too,” Shoni said. Holding on to their Native heritage is important for both. Jude said she is inspired to succeed by the Native Americans who helped pave the road for the sisters.

The Schimmel sisters will continue to do some paving of their own when the Louisville Cardinals return next year. And because of the Schimmel’s inspiring dedication, a watershed of Native American talented student athletes will begin to flow.

We thank the Creator.


Steve Cadue is Tribal Chairman of the Kickapoo Nation. He can be reached by email at