In the wake of the recently completed NCAA women’s basketball tournament championship, do the Schimmel sisters, Jude and Shoni, really need an introduction?
In deference to those unlucky readers who missed one of the best stories in Indian country this year, Jude and Shoni—who hail from the Umatilla Reservation in northeastern Oregon—both play guard for the Louisville Cardinals. That team, driven by the Schimmel sisters, became the first fifth-seeded—and lowest seed—team to make the championship game after pulling off huge upsets against Baylor, California and Tennessee. Their amazing run finally ended in the finals against UConn, but they are still shining brightly.
Jude and Shoni Schimmel recently sat down with ICTMN to discuss their devotion to basketball, the hype that has engulfed them and what they will do next.
You have made Indian country proud. How does that feel?
Shoni: It’s an honor for both Jude and I to be an inspiration to so many people. To represent Native American people just by playing basketball and for us to do something we both love and get so much out of is a privilege.
Jude: It’s fun to do something we love and at the same time affect people positively. It is a privilege and a blessing.
During the tournament, what did you think about the hype and euphoria surrounding your amazing run to the NCAA title game?
Jude: We heard some of the hype, but I kind of laid low. A ton of Native Americans came to our hotel to get autographs, but we weren’t overwhelmed by the media.
Shoni: ESPN was covering the University of Louisville, but they were also talking about two little Indian girls! It was awesome because it was ESPN. This is something that doesn’t ever really happen—other than Jacoby Ellsbury or Tahnee Robinson, how many Indians are [covered by ESPN]?
What’s it like to be an inspiration for young Native basketball players?
Shoni: That’s the one thing our mom always put into our brains while we were growing up: “You are not doing it for yourself—you are doing it for all the little Native American girls who are going to come along after you.”
Jude: We want to be that light of hope for younger generations. We want them to know it is possible. If you put your mind and heart into it, you can achieve anything you want.
Which is more fun, playing rez ball or college ball?
Shoni: The rez. [Laughs.] I’m kidding. Rez ball is when you go out there and just showcase, basically. Rez ball is free—you could just go out and play, while college is a little bit more structured. It has to be.
How long have you been play playing?
Jude: I have been playing basketball since I was five.
Shoni: I’ve been playing since I was four.
Were there times either of you wanted to quit?
Shoni: Definitely not. Basketball is one thing that we both absolutely love. We play all the time, even when we go back home. That’s what we do for fun. Other than basketball, I don’t know what else there is to do for fun.
Jude: We play pickup with our whole family.
Shoni: From our 4-year-old brother to our mom and dad, they all play. It is crazy.
How did you make the jump from playing on the rez to playing in college?
Shoni: I just had confidence in myself that I could go out there and do it. I like to be told I can’t do stuff because then I want to go out there and do it. By playing basketball, I’ve gotten to see a lot of places and meet a lot of people.
Jude: My parents made a lot of things possible for us. The decision my mom and dad made for us to move off the reservation and go into Portland [to play high school basketball] gave us a lot more opportunities.
During the tournament, Jude got an NCAA Elite 89 Award for having the best GPA of any player in the Final Four, with a 3.737. How important is education to the both of you?
Shoni: They actually messed up—that was my GPA.
Oh, sorry about that.
Shoni: No, I’m kidding. [Laughs.] When you are a student-athlete, the student comes before the athlete. You cannot play sports without going to school. You can do schoolwork and still have fun playing basketball.
Jude: I have always highly valued education and getting good grades. The fact that we had good grades got us into position to be offered scholarships. Basketball is going to be there, but we are going to get older and what is going to be left is our education. Your education sets you up for success.
Shoni, you made the basketball shot heard round the world against Brittney Griner in your tournament game against Baylor. Can you describe that moment?
Shoni: I had messed around doing that kind of shot when I was younger, but for it to actually fall at the right moment over someone six-foot-eight was kind of unbelievable. It was pretty crazy.
You two also made all of the highlight reels with a sweet behind-the-back pass by Shoni to Jude for a layup.
Jude: I thought was pretty funny that everyone was amazed by that pass because she used to do that with me all the time in high school. Shoni asked me after the game, “Did you know I was about to pass it to you?” and I said, “Yeah. I’ve been playing with you for 13 years.”
What did it feel like to play in the NCAA championship game?
Shoni: It was like every dream came true. We came up short, but at least we can say, “We were there.” It’s unbelievable that we made it that far.
Jude: It was an unreal experience, one we will remember forever. I am glad I got to share it with my sister—not many people get to share that type of experience with their sibling. The fact that my family was able to make it to the game made it even better.
What advice would you give young players on reservations or in tough urban environments who may be wondering if they can succeed?
Shoni: Believe in yourself.
Jude: Another huge thing you need to understand is that everything is possible. You have to have the right resources to do it, but you can make anything happen. You also need to find someone—an adult, guardian or role model—who is close to you and can help you. Everything is possible. If you put your heart and mind into it you can achieve anything you want.
What’s next for you?
Shoni: I still have another year of college ball, so getting back to the Final Four and winning a championship is definitely on my checklist. After that, I will continue to play basketball, graduate from college and do all the right things that I was sent here to do.
Jude: In addition to growing as basketball players, our biggest goal is to win a national championship. At the same time we want to grow as people, and continue to be an inspiration and a light of hope for Native Americans.