It’s showtime for Shoni Schimmel as she spotlights Rez Ball

The East's Shoni Schimmel celebrates with her MVP following their 125-124 win over the West in the WNBA All-Star Game Saturday, July 19, 2014 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: David KadlubowskI/azcentral sports)

The East’s Shoni Schimmel celebrates with her MVP following their 125-124 win over the West in the WNBA All-Star Game Saturday, July 19, 2014 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: David KadlubowskI/azcentral sports)

By Bob Young, Arizona Republic

Rick Schimmel’s T-shirt said it all.

“Rez Ball Rules.”

Reservation-style basketball, as demonstrated by rookie Shoni Schimmel, sure ruled the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday at US Airways Center.

And if you want an explanation of Rez Ball, well, WNBA President Laurel Richie provided a pretty good one when she told Schimmel’s dad, “She plays with such joy, freedom and liberation!”

Schimmel, who probably wouldn’t have been in the game at all without the support of Native American basketball fans, added a whole lot more faces to her following with dazzling ballhandling, long-range shooting and an All-Star-record 29 points that led the East to a 125-124 overtime victory.

Schimmel is the first rookie named MVP in the All-Star Game, but she’s been a most valuable person for Native Americans for quite a while.

Raised in eastern Oregon on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Schimmel’s quest to be the first athlete from her reservation to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship was the subject of a 2011 documentary “Off the Rez.”

Her following grew when she and her younger sister Jude led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA championship game before the surprising Cardinals finally fell to Connecticut.

Atlanta picked Schimmel eighth overall in the WNBA draft and she has started only two games for the Dream, averaging 7.2 points. Yet she was voted into the East starting lineup with the third-highest number of ballots in All-Star voting.

Her jersey is the biggest seller in the league.

And only the Mercury’s three players in the game, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree, got bigger reactions from the crowd than Schimmel.

“I don’t know if it was meant to be, but it happened,” Rick Schimmel said. “It was exciting that it was in front of so many Native Americans here. It meant a lot.”

Rick said Shoni has taken her role as an example to Native American followers seriously since she began learning those dazzling moves as a kid during her years in high school when she was coached by her mom Ceci and on to Louisville and the WNBA.

“To have the fans look up to me and be a role model not only for my siblings but the Native American fans and Native American people, it’s something that I take on my shoulders because I enjoy it,” she said. “I love being Native American, and for all these fans to come out and be here, and to vote me into this game, means a lot.

“I’m thankful they got to be here or to watch it on TV. It was awesome just to be able to go out there and play my game and have fun, and to feel free to go out there and play Rez Ball. It was a lot of fun.”

Schimmel was relatively quiet in the first half, scoring five points and handing out four assists.

But not long into the third quarter, she cut loose, hitting three shots from beyond the 3-point line in short order.

“I’m not going to lie, I saw it coming in the third quarter,” said Jude, one of 17 family members who made the trip to Phoenix. “She just kept asking for the ball and got more and more comfortable as the game went on. Playing with her for so long, and being her sister, I knew what was coming.

“I was just happy to see her so comfortable on such a big stage, playing so well.”

Rick said Shoni feels a responsibility to set an example, just as former Window Rock and Arizona State star Ryneldi Becenti did as the first Native American to play in the WNBA.

“It offers hope to the younger generation of Native Americans,” he said. “It has been such a struggle, but it gives them hope and the idea that they can go out and do anything they set their mind to.

“Shoni is living her own dream, but at the same time, she represents a lot more to a lot of people, and that’s just the blessing of it all. It’s enhancing other people’s lives and opportunities along the way.

“It’s in her core, really. It’s something she has always represented. It’s not like she comes out and thinks about it that much, but you walk out and see a lot of Native faces, I think in anybody’s mind they’re thinking, ‘Wow, they’re here to see me.’

“I would freeze up, and it’s easy to do that. But she doesn’t. She embraces it. It’s in her heart and something she was born with.”

She was born with it on a reservation, where basketball is a horizontal game more than a vertical one. Where creativity is king and playing with fear will only get you beat.

“Rez Ball is kind of an open-court game, where you feed off of each other,” Jude explained. “It’s free-flowing and fun. It’s more about a feel for the game than thinking about it. It’s not very structured, but it’s a thriller!

“It fits perfectly for an All-Star Game. Ever since we were younger, I’ve seen those kinds of moves, probably a lot more of them, too. But to see her do it on the big stage, I had goosebumps. I normally don’t cheer, but I was cheering.”

Why not? On the WNBA’s biggest stage, Rez Ball ruled.

Native American basketball players show who’s got game

The Rez Runners’ Hunter Osceola dribbles against Cheyenne Arapaho’s Kiahree Kerns in an early round of the Native American Basketball Invitational.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

The Rez Runners’ Hunter Osceola dribbles against Cheyenne Arapaho’s Kiahree Kerns in an early round of the Native American Basketball Invitational.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

 

By Tristan Ahtone, ALJAZEERA America

PHOENIX — Coach Andrew Bowers was exhorting his players on the court at the US Airways Stadium, his voice cutting through the din of cheering spectators, the squeaks of basketball shoes, the shrill blasts of the referee’s whistle.

“Defense!’’ he roared. “Lock it up! Lock it up! Lock it up!’’

The 18,422-seat stadium is the home of the Phoenix Mercury, a Women’s National Basketball Association franchise. But that wasn’t the team on the court. Bowers is the coach for the Rez Runners, a team of young men from the Seminole, Miccosukee and Winnebago tribes from Hollywood, Florida, where their home court has an audience capacity of just about 200.

By halftime on Saturday, they were tied 31-31 against the Cheyenne Arapaho team in the final game for the gold championship at the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI).

The Cheyenne Arapaho, representing the tribe of the same name from Oklahoma, have been NABI champions five times. The Rez Runners had made it to the quarterfinals before but never this close to the big prize.

The two teams knew each other. Well.

“It’s a rivalry. It’s not friendly at all,” said Trewston Pierce, an 18-year-old Seminole tribal member and a Rez Runner. “We’re looking to smash ’em.”

At halftime, a victory for Pierce and the Rez Runners was fragile but within grasp.

For five days every July, 128 high school teams from the United States, Canada and New Zealand compete in the nation’s largest Native basketball tournament. The prizes: a trophy, T-shirts, hats and — most important — bragging rights.

For many in Indian Country, basketball is the game of the gods, just as hockey is to many Canadians or soccer to many Brazilians. It’s not clear how it gained such a foothold or why — it just is — but it does have a style and name among those who have been initiated: Rez Ball.

“We’ve been playing this way for decades,” said Tahnee Robinson. “It’s in our blood.”

Robinson was the first Native American drafted into the WNBA, after a fruitful career playing college ball in Nevada, and has been playing professionally overseas the last few years — Israel, Bulgaria, Ukraine, China and now Poland.

“Depending on where you go overseas, they play a fast pace, and some other places they like to really play with more finesse and set the ball up and things like that,” she said. “Rez Ball is a fast-paced game where anybody on the court can bring up the ball at any time.”

Guards, shooting guards, posts, forwards — it doesn’t matter what your position is; in Rez Ball, anyone can take the ball up, and everyone is on the hook to pass, break and rebound.

“It’s just good court sense,” said Robinson. “Just knowing that that person is going to be there without you even having to look.”

In other words, Rez Ball is more democratic — or more chaotic, depending on how you want to look at it.

Coach “Big John” Andreas, center, celebrates with his team, Apache Nation, after it defeated Brotherhood, representing the Winnebago tribe, 43-42, in the first round of play.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Coach “Big John” Andreas, center, celebrates with his team, Apache Nation, after it defeated Brotherhood, representing the Winnebago tribe, 43-42, in the first round of play.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

The air conditioning roared in the modest Phoenix College gymnasium. Outside, the temperature hovered in the triple digits, but inside, brown faces and black hair filled the stands as Northern Thunder squared off against NN Lady Magic for the title of Girls Silver Champion.

“A lot of people in Indian Country love basketball,” said John Andreas, a coach from White Mountain Apache, Arizona. “It’s a part of life. Navajos, they herd sheep. Cowboys they get the cows together. Natives, they love to play basketball. That’s just the way it is.”

In many ways, the NABI is like Gathering of Nations or even Indian National Finals Rodeo: Teams, spectators and families get together to mingle, catch up and support.

“It’s very important to remember that this is all about the youth,” said Andreas. “This is our way of life.”

There are myriad Native basketball tournaments across the country during the year. The NABI is the largest and is focused entirely on high school students, with the purpose of attracting scouts. By allowing only 128 teams per year to compete — 64 each for boys and girls — organizers hope to keep the quality of games high and to match NCAA brackets.

Roughly 1,600 student athletes attend annually, and teams must apply to play and follow guidelines. All players must be tribally enrolled and in high school and must attend educational seminars while participating.

“You can teach so much through the game of basketball,” said Yvonne DeCory, manager of the South Dakota Many Feathers team. “You can build character. You can build self-esteem. You can teach math.”

Because of NCAA rules, the big division schools don’t recruit at the NABI — only community and tribal colleges. However, the very prospect of a college career is enough for many coaches to push their kids.

“A lot of these kids are onsika. That means kind of poor, a little bit,” said Many Feathers coach William Good Eagle Jr. “Most of these kids don’t get a chance, or they’re too scared. We just want them to get out and try it.”

Overwhelmingly, coaches said basketball was also a way to keep kids off the street and out of trouble. With so many depressing statistics available to describe day-to-day Native life, a basketball game can be a huge breath of fresh air as well as an unassuming nod to a brighter future for the next generation.

“We may be seeing future councilmen or tribal chairmen on these courts,” said Martha Tommie, a Seminole tribal member and spectator. “Why wouldn’t we want our kids to blend together and our tribes become friends as youth? Then when they’re older and wiser — ‘Hey, remember us? Let’s help each other out.’”

Rez Runners Matthew Winsett, left, and Ryland Moore get ready for their championship game at the US Airways Center.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Rez Runners Matthew Winsett, left, and Ryland Moore get ready for their championship game at the US Airways Center.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

It was quiet in the locker room, save for the sound of a few basketballs bouncing. The boys stretched as the sounds of music and the muffled voice of an announcer filtered down the halls and through the concrete walls of the stadium.

Ryland Moore had A$AP Ferg on his headphones, Mathew Wingett listened to J. Cole, and Trewston Pierce listened to a mix of 50 Cent and traditional Seminole hymns.

Coach Bowers had something to say to the Rez Runners.

“Intensity — let’s start it out from the beginning,” he intoned. “Punch ’em in the mouth, like we always say. Make ’em not want to play anymore. Intensity. That means on offense and on defense.”

The boys nodded. They knew what they had to do.

“We said ‘one game at a time’ the whole way here,” said Bowers. “We’re at that last game. Go get what’s yours. Go get what’s yours. Let’s go! ‘Win’ on three.”

The boys huddled up and in unison yelled, “One, two, three, WIN!”

Hori Poto, center, girls’ coach for New Zealand’s Nga Hau E Wha, with his team during pool play against Fort Yuma, an intertribal squad.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Hori Poto, center, girls’ coach for New Zealand’s Nga Hau E Wha, with his team during pool play against Fort Yuma, an intertribal squad.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Basketball is important not just to Native communities in North America; it has made its way to tribes in other parts of the world.

“Our major sport in New Zealand is rugby,” said Ramari Leonard, the delegation head and a coach for Nga Hau E Wha. “Our Maori youth grow up dreaming of becoming an All Black, so usually, basketball becomes secondary.”

Nga Hau E Wha, or “four corners,” is named that because team members represent Maori tribes from across the island nation. Essentially, it’s a Maori all-star team.

“For Maoris, when we come to do our tournaments, we have a cultural night, and it’s an expectation that each tribe will perform,” said Leonard. “That is a highlight of the tournament, and that’s what we expected, so we’re a little bit intrigued that it doesn’t happen [at the NABI].”

At the NABI, Native culture isn’t front and center like at other events, at least not what one might easily identify as Native culture. Instead, basketball is the culture, and despite the difference in basketball customs, tribes from both sides of the Pacific are finding more similarities than differences.

“I’d like to think our interactions with the Native Americans would be positive so they think well of Maori people,” said Leonard. “It’s more about the social context. The game is just a reason why we come together.”

Rez Runners basketball coach Andrew Bowers.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Rez Runners basketball coach Andrew Bowers.Mark Henle for Al Jazeera America

Three minutes left on the clock, and the Rez Runners were ahead, 60 to 47.

Timeout.

“Try and run the clock if you can,” said Bowers as the boys gathered around him. “If they give it to you and it’s there, take it. If not, pull a Steve Nash. Go in, dribble it back out. All right?”

The 30-second timeout buzzer blared, and players from Cheyenne Arapaho began trickling back out onto the court. The crowd screamed.

“Three minutes,” yelled Bowers. “Three minutes until you get what you deserve. Challenge all shots. Let’s go, guys.”

Fans called out to the team, “Goooooooo, Rez Runners!’’ Top 40 hits blared over the stadium’s sound system, and the Rez Runners did exactly what they were supposed to: They ran down the clock and took shots when they could.

With about 10 second left on the clock, Cheyenne Arapaho suddenly lost energy, like runners who had crossed the finish line and had no reason left to run. The buzzer rang, and then a cheer rose from the crowd.

The final score: 66 to 51. The Rez Runners had their first NABI title.

The boys claimed their shirts, hats and trophy, then moved on for photos. The next day, some of the Rez Runners would fly back home, while the rest would drive — a two-day journey back to the tip of Florida, the homeland of the Seminole tribe.

“Our young people are just like the whites, the blacks, the Mexicans, whatever,” said Yvonne DeCory. “They put their sneakers on just like them, one at a time, and lace ’em up. But Natives? We got game.”

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.

HBO Profiles ‘Rez Ball’ Starring Shoni and Jude Schimmel

shoni_and_jude_schimmel

 

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel caught up with the Schimmel Sisters —  a pair they called a “force in women’s basketball” —  to talk about their journey from the reservation to the college  ball court. In the hour-long special that aired exclusively on the network (the program is available until April 14 on HBO on Demand), Shoni and Jude, who grew up on the Umatilla reservation in Pendleton, Oregon, opened up about their success on and off the court.

John Frankel, an HBO correspondent, went to the sisters’ home in Oregon where got a lesson in rez ball and learned that basketball, not baseball, is their national pastime.

Watch the clips below.

 

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/04/01/hbo-profiles-rez-ball-starring-shoni-and-jude-schimmel-154262

The five faces of Shoni Schimmel

 

espnw_e_schimmel_01b_576x878November 7, 2013

By Kate Fagan | espnW.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — We asked Louisville senior guard Shoni Schimmel to spend an afternoon with us in front of the camera. Usually on a day off from practice, Schimmel will catch up on TV shows — right now, she’s into “Revenge” — by streaming them on Netflix. But today, she packed a bag filled with the clothes and accessories she loves, then showed off her style, on and off the court.

Photos by Robby Klein for espnW

1. Not as easy as it looks

When Schimmel is asked to recreate the ridiculous playground shot she made against Baylor center Brittney Griner in the Sweet 16 of last season’s NCAA tournament, she needs some direction. “Was it with my left hand? How was my body positioned?” She twists and extends the ball in her right palm, underhand, then asks, “Was it like this?”

Wait, what? Hasn’t she watched the YouTube video of that moment dozens of times? It is easily one of the most spectacular moves — behind-the-back dribble, turn in the air, overhead flip off the glass — in NCAA women’s tourney history, especially given the tension of the moment and the game’s David-versus-Goliath narrative. As if the shot itself wasn’t enough, the 5-foot-9 Schimmel popped off the floor after drawing the foul and went toe-to-toe with the 6-8 Griner, letting out a fierce whoop and providing the perfect image to go along with the underdog theme.

“I think I’ve seen it once,” Schimmel says of the clip. “That whole moment was a misunderstanding. It’s not like me to get in someone’s face. After making the move, I was on the ground and I couldn’t see Brittney, so I thought she stepped on me on purpose. It was obviously by accident; I just didn’t know it at the time.”

No one thought Louisville, a No. 5 seed, would oust top-seeded Baylor — no one except Schimmel and her teammates, that is. She made a bet with her parents before the game that if the Cardinals won, the two of them would officially get married. Everyone on the Umatilla reservation where Schimmel grew up, in eastern Oregon, already considered Rick Schimmel and Ceci Moses married, because they had been together for 25 years and have eight children. But the couple had never made it legally binding — they just didn’t feel the need for outside validation — until they walked into an Oklahoma City courthouse after Louisville’s shocking upset in the regional semifinals.

2. Rez ball style

Some players think “flashy” is a negative term, but Schimmel is fine with it. That’s the style of ball she grew up playing on the reservation — “rez ball,” as it is commonly known. She tosses a ball into the air and catches it on the tip of her index finger, watching it spin. “When I was a kid, I was hooked on the AND1 mixtapes,” she says, referring to the popular streetball DVDs that emphasize jaw-dropping moves over drawn-up plays.

Schimmel hadn’t played much structured basketball before arriving at Louisville. She chose the school over Oregon, UCLA, Rutgers and South Carolina because she wanted to experience a different part of the country while playing for a coach who was willing to adapt her free-flowing style to the college game.

Cardinals coach Jeff Walz lets Schimmel do her thing — no-look passes, behind-the-back dishes, full-court baseball tosses — within the structure of his offense, taking advantage of her ability to improvise but also pulling on the reins when Schimmel crosses over from creative to careless.

3. See the 3, be the 3

Schimmel has some swagger. There is something in her walk, her movements, that reflects confidence, especially when she possesses the ball. Toss her the rock and Schimmel light ups, displaying all the tricks in her arsenal.

Come to think of it, the Cardinals as a team have some of this same bounce to their step, a self-assurance that made them fun to watch on their run to the national championship game last spring. Occasionally, after making a 3-pointer, Schimmel will raise her arms or lift her hand to her eye, like she’s putting on a pair of glasses. (Notice the three fingers extended.) On the opening possession of the NCAA title game against Connecticut, Louisville forward Sara Hammond made a 3 then ran back down court making the same gesture as Schimmel in the above photo.

In the end, Louisville had no answer for UConn’s talent and depth. But more will be expected of the Cardinals after their epic postseason run made up for a mediocre regular season. (Louisville is ranked No. 5 in the preseason polls.) “I think we’re better this year,” says Schimmel, one of four returning starters. “We’re more of a veteran team.”

4. Shades of Shoni (and MJ)

When she walks around the Louisville campus, Schimmel is usually wearing her black Ray-Bans. She is much more low-key away from the court and thinks the sunglasses give her an extra layer of protection. Of course, she’s not really fooling anyone.

Her nickname — “Shades” — is perfect for her on-court persona. She is cool under pressure, much like her all-time favorite player, Michael Jordan. But ask Schimmel why she loves MJ so much and she is suddenly thrown for a loss. She shrugs her shoulders, with a confused look on her face, as if someone wants her to explain why she needs oxygen.

5. Finding her voice

Schimmel is just starting to realize how much weight her voice carries within the Native American community. Over the summer, she and her sister Jude, who also plays for Louisville, and their parents visited the Black Hills of South Dakota to speak with the residents there. When Louisville plays, even on the road, members of the Native American community wait for Shoni and Jude after the game. These fans want their kids to see the opportunities that exist beyond the reservation, beyond the scourge of drugs and alcohol and school truancy that stunts too many young lives.

And Shoni wants to show them how good life can be — if you keep your eyes up. “There’s so much more,” she says. “I want them to know that.”

In the past, Schimmel was reluctant to speak publicly about topics close to her heart, for fear she might turn people off. Now, she is gradually owning and accepting the megaphone that sports has given her. She is one of the most prominent athletes of Native American heritage, one who finds herself at the nexus of a hot-button issue: Should the NFL’s Washington Redskins change their nickname?

Two years ago, maybe even last year, Schimmel would have deflected the question. Not anymore.

“I would change the name of the Redskins mainly for the Native American people as a whole,” Schimmel says. “It’s about respect for the Native American race, especially to not promote the racism carried over from the past. It was racist to be called a ‘redskin’ back in the day, so what makes it OK today? There isn’t a team called ‘whiteskins’ or ‘blackskins’ — how would that go over with the world?

“Just because what our people went through was hundreds of years ago doesn’t mean we forgot what happened, forgot what our elders went through. Changing the name would help give us, as Native Americans, the same equality that every other race wants.”