October 1, 2021
Which Schimmel sister shines supreme?
Shoni and Jude, make way for Milan
After No. 5 seed Louisville upset No. 2 seed California in the 2013 national semifinals, the atmosphere was electric on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, where Louisville stars Shoni and Jude Schimmel had grown up.
“You could step outside the door and hear people cheering in the neighborhood,” tribal member Corinne Sams told NPR’s “All Things Considered.” “… As soon as the game was over, the streets filled with kids playing basketball on their courts in front of their houses. I mean, any kid who had a basketball was outside last night after the game pretending they were Shoni and Jude.”
The Schimmels had already led Louisville past No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee, No. 4 seed Purdue, No. 1 overall seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Tennessee to reach the Final Four, and although they would lose in the national championship game, their run showed Native American children across the country what was possible. In 2013, the Schimmels were two of just 23 Division I women’s basketball players—out of nearly 5,000—who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, and the numbers haven’t budged much since.
Shoni, Jude and their younger sister Milan grew up on the Umatilla reservation with five brothers, and basketball was part of all of their lives from an early age. “Basketball is a thing kids do on the reservation when things are going on at home, so I feel like it has been built into what’s going on,” Milan said in 2018. “If I was just chilling at home, my friends and I would just go play basketball.”
Shoni, the oldest daughter, was reportedly dribbling around the house at age two. At four, she played in her first tournament, and even at that age, she hated to lose.
“Ever since then, I’ve seen that fire in that girl’s eyes,” her mother, Cecilee Moses, told NPR in 2011. “She lost, but I’m not kidding you, ever since then, she’s had that drive to just become better.”
Shoni and Jude were also inspired by the Disney Channel movie “Double Teamed,” which is based on the lives of WNBA players Heidi and Heather Burge. “We were like, ‘Oh, that’s us to a tee because they both played together, and then they went off into the WNBA,’” Shoni said in 2013.
Their lives soon began to mirror the Burges’ in other ways, too: In the movie, the Burge family decides to send their daughters to a larger high school to help them earn college scholarships. When Shoni was a rising high school junior and Jude was a sophomore, Cecilee and Rick moved the family to Portland, Oregon, where Cecilee and Rick would coach Shoni and Jude at Franklin High School. Three years later, the TLC documentary Off the Rez debuted about Shoni and Cecilee’s basketball dreams.
Although the family’s story was chronicled on the big screen, it was not a fairytale. Some relatives hadn’t wanted them to leave the reservation, and the family had few examples of others who had followed the same path. According to OregonLive, Rick and Cecilee faced discrimination in Portland as an unmarried, mixed-race couple, and they once found a note on their front door saying, “Go back to the … reservation.”
But the move paid off for Shoni and Jude, whose games prompted many Native American fans to travel to see them play and caught the attention of college scouts. An ESPN evaluation in July 2009, before Shoni’s senior year of high school, said in part:
“The Schimmel Show is one of the best tickets in town. Shoni and Jude Schimmel are a sister act out of Pendleton, Ore., which makes dazzling plays that bring applause from even the opposition’s fans. Shoni, the older of the two, is a dynamic player with NBA range and unprecedented passing skills. What is most impressive about this 5-10 combo guard is her ability to create her own shot. … one person who is used to catching her [passes] is her younger sister, Jude. This fearless point guard has a game that is much bigger than her size. While her offensive skills make her a threat from behind the arch and in transition, her defense is her greatest strength. Jude is a scrappy and tenacious defender with an endless motor.”
Shoni drew interest from schools including Oregon, Rutgers, South Carolina and UCLA, but she struggled to pick a college before ultimately choosing Louisville, where she enrolled in 2010. “The whole reason I didn’t know where I wanted to go was because the whole idea of being away from my family was a big step for me,” she said in 2011. “Not many people do that being from the Native American community. It’s something I wasn’t used to; I didn’t have examples to tell me this is what you do.”
Jude was less highly touted, but Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said in 2014 that her competitiveness and toughness had made her stand out as a recruit. She followed Shoni to Louisville in 2011, and Walz tweaked his system to fit their strengths. As The New York Times put it in 2013, “The Cardinals have adopted a more structured version of what many call Rez Ball, an up-tempo style that is joyful, feverish and fearless.”
“It’s run and gun, shoot whenever you’re open, trust in your heart,” Shoni said of the style of play she learned on the Umatilla reservation.
On and off the court, the Schimmels made an undeniable impact at Louisville. Shoni was a three-time First-Team All-Conference selection and made multiple All-America teams as a senior. She ranks third in Louisville history with 2,174 career points, first with 387 3-pointers and second with 600 assists. She also holds program records for total points (285) and assists (63) in the NCAA Tournament, and Walz named her as one of his top five players all-time at Louisville in 2020. Jude, meanwhile, led her team in total assists (130) and steals (74) as a senior and holds the program record for total steals in the NCAA Tournament with 37.
They were also extremely popular with fans, drawing large crowds and signing autographs for up to three hours on the road. On the Umatilla reservation, Sams told NPR, “Since the Schimmel girls have been playing Division I basketball, it’s exploded into everybody wanting to participate and get to that next level.”
The Schimmels’ fame arguably peaked when Louisville upset Baylor in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Baylor was the defending national champion and had lost just once that season, whereas Louisville had finished third in the Big East. According to Louisville forward Monique Reid, people outside the team had been saying that “the only way we were going to win is if Baylor’s bus didn’t show up.”
Rick Schimmel, at least, showed some belief in the Cardinals, quipping that Louisville would win because the game was on “Easter Sunday, a day of miracles.” Miracle or not, the Cardinals were white-hot, shooting 16-for-25 from 3-point range and leading by as many as 19 before holding on for a one-point win.
Fans came out in force to support the Schimmels during the tournament, some with signs saying “Rez Girls Rock” and “Native Pride.” “You’ve Been Schimmeled” was a popular lawn sign on the Umatilla reservation, and Shoni and Jude were in-demand public speakers that summer, traveling to many reservations together ahead of Shoni’s senior year. The following March, Native Americans from about 40 states attended Shoni’s final regular-season home game.
Jude, meanwhile, earned her undergraduate degree in three years and won the NCAA’s Elite 89 award for having the highest grade point average in the 2013 Final Four. And she didn’t miss a beat when Shoni graduated, saying ahead of the 2014-15 season that she was ready for a bigger role.
“It’s my opportunity to show [myself] because the last three years I’ve been a role player,” Jude said. “… When Shoni’s not around, I feel like my role changes. I feel like I can be more outgoing and more whatever I need to be. I get to grow into the person that I am. So really, I miss her, but I know how to handle it.”
Milan has taken a somewhat different path than her sisters, attending high school at Nixyaawii Community School on the Umatilla reservation and starting her college career at two community colleges before playing for Cincinnati last season. She described her style of play as “a combination of both my sisters,” a combo guard who can both shoot and distribute, and her coach at Eastern Florida State College, Rob McDonald, backed that up.
“I call her ‘Miss does it all on the floor and some’!” he tweeted last year.
Milan may do it all—but does she do it all better than her sisters? This could be settled in the family’s highly competitive pickup games, but in this family rivalry series, we settle scores by looking at the stats sheet. So let’s see how the Schimmels’ college careers stack up:
Shoni, who started all but one of her 142 games in a Louisville uniform, leads the family in most statistical categories, including minutes, points and assists per game. Her career-high 38 points as a junior is the highest of the trio, and she also leads in steals and blocks per game, despite Jude’s reputation as a top defender. However, Shoni averaged about 10 more minutes per game than Jude in her career and therefore trails Jude in steals per 40 minutes. (It was not possible to calculate all of the statistics per 40 minutes because minutes data from Milan’s time at Eastern Florida State were not available.)
Jude has the fewest turnovers per game of the trio, while Milan leads in field goal percentage, 3-point shooting percentage, rebounds per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. Milan is a career 37.0 percent shooter from 3-point range on 2.8 attempts per game, and last season she shot 46.2 percent in 14 games for Cincinnati. That shot, along with her rebounding and passing, translated well from the community college ranks, though she struggled with turnovers in her first Division I season (3.2 per game) and averaged about nine fewer points per game than she had in 2019-20 at Eastern Florida State.
To date, Shoni is the only Schimmel to appear in a WNBA game, as she was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream in 2014 and played four seasons in the league. Her jersey instantly became a top seller, and she was an All-Star in each of her first two seasons, becoming the first rookie to win All-Star Game MVP in 2014 after scoring a then-record 29 points.
“They call her Showtime Schimmel and she came out and put on a great show tonight,” said then-nine-time All-Star Tamika Catchings.
But Shoni’s career took a left turn in 2016, when Atlanta head coach Michael Cooper was upset with her conditioning in training camp for the second straight season. On May 2, she was traded to the New York Liberty, where she played in 17 games before suffering a season-ending concussion. She sat out the 2017 season for personal reasons and was cut by the Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces in 2018 after playing just two games. In 85 career WNBA games, Shoni averaged 6.6 points and 2.8 assists in 17.0 minutes per game and shot 36.6 percent from 3-point range.
Instead of continuing her career overseas, Shoni followed in her parents’ footsteps, becoming the girls’ basketball coach at New Town High School on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota for the 2018-19 season. She stayed out of the spotlight until June 2021, when she was arrested in Umatilla County for felony assault, criminal mischief and several misdemeanors, and appears to be focusing on her family. “Being a full-time sister is a real thing,” she tweeted last month.
Jude didn’t garner the same level of WNBA interest as Shoni, but she did get a training camp invitation from the Dallas Wings in 2016, one year after she finished her Louisville career. She did not make the Wings’ final roster, but she said that the opportunity made her “feel ever more confident about being able to play at that level.”
That winter, Jude signed with Cadi La Seu in Spain’s Liga Feminina. Despite the language barrier and adjustment to the Spanish style of play, she averaged 5.5 points, 1.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds.
Her off-the-court accomplishments since graduation are perhaps even more impressive. She wrote a book about her life, Dreamcatcher, that was published at the end of her senior year in college. “Since I’m in the position I’m in, I might as well give back,” she said in 2015. “… I feel like Native Americans need that light and they need somebody and something to look up to.” She also moderated a discussion with then-President Barack Obama at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2015 and is a longtime ambassador for Nike’s N7 clothing brand.
And, of course, Jude and Shoni are still cheering on Milan, who will play for Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) this season after transferring from Cincinnati. Milan has two seasons of eligibility remaining, and FGCU head coach Karl Smesko is excited about her potential.
“Milan is a talented and versatile player. She is a great shooter, has really good court vision and rebounds very well for her position,” he said. “She fits in very well with our style of play.”
Rather than shying away from comparisons to her sisters, Milan hopes to emulate them in her own way. She has taken advice from Shoni on transitioning to college and “having a short memory” on the court, and she hopes to play overseas like Jude. In addition, she told Indian Country Today when she made the leap to Division I that she hopes to be a good example for her community, echoing sentiments her sisters have expressed over the years.
“Being a role model, not only in the local area but all across Indian Country, I’m really excited to go to the next level, and I hope I can continue to inspire Indian Country,” she said.
Ultimately, however Milan performs this season, her presence in college basketball matters and inspires, just as Shoni and Jude’s did. But if she shows off the skills that made her “Miss does it all on the floor and some” at another Florida college two seasons ago, all those “You’ve Been Schimmeled” lawn signs might just resurface.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided and Power Plays.
Excellent article. For a long time, I have been wondering what happened to Shoni. I really loved her game and I assumed she encountered some personal problems. Good to know she is alright now. I wish her family and the Schimmel sisters all the best. Thank you for writing this.
Shoni, so much potential for a great WNBA career. She IS better than half the players in the league now. So sorry she did not try to get back in the league, best three point shooter bar none. Watched her play ar the University of Louisville. Traveled all over the country to watch them play. Jude was a great team leader, could read the floor better than anybody. The WNBA and the fans across the country missed out on two great players. I hope Shoni makes another try at it she can still play! My favorite player!