Shoni Schimmel’s distinctive style of play first took shape on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon.
The 22-year-old guard for the Atlanta Dream describes her version of Rez Ball, as it’s known, like this: Go hard, trust instincts and always play with heart.
Schimmel rode Rez Ball all the way from a stellar prep career in Portland to Louisville and the NCAA title game her junior year, and finally to the WNBA.
Today, the Dream visit the Seattle Storm, marking Schimmel’s first game in the Pacific Northwest as a pro. The game is a sellout.
Though she’s been back to the West Coast before — when she was with the Cardinals — she said Thursday’s game is special to her. The Storm are planning to honor Schimmel before the game.
“It’s pretty awesome. I know that Seattle is sold out, and a lot of people I know are interested because it is like a home game for me,” she said. “I have a lot of friends and family coming out.”
Just a rookie, the 5-foot-9 Schimmel is arguably the WNBA’s fastest rising star. Known as Showtime Shoni, her jersey is the league’s best seller.
Last month, Schimmel scored a record 29 points and had eight assists as the Eastern Conference pulled out a 125-124 overtime victory over the West in her first WNBA All-Star Game.
Schimmel’s fans at the game — including her dad — wore T-shirts proclaiming “Rez Ball Rules.”
Schimmel started the All-Star game even though she’d started only twice for the Dream this season. Not being a starter is the most frustrating thing about her rookie year, but she understands.
“In college I was the go-to player, and in high school I was the go-to. So for that to happen this year it’s a little different,” she said. “At the same time I look forward to going out there and giving whatever I can to my team and helping us win.”
Schimmel’s story is well known in the Pacific Northwest. She first played basketball on a co-ed team at age 4 in a spring break tournament across the street from her home. She was hooked.
Her family moved to Portland so Schimmel — and her sister, Jude — would have a better chance to develop their talent. Schimmel starred at Franklin High School and was named a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American.
That led to Louisville, where Schimmel scored 2,174 points and had 600 assists over the course of her career. Her points are second only to Dream teammate Angel McCoughtry’s 2,779 with the Cardinals. She also made 387 3-pointers, ranking her fifth all-time among NCAA Division I players.
The Dream selected Schimmel with the eighth pick in the WNBA draft. Overall as a rookie, she’s averaging seven points and 3.5 assists in 19.7 minutes per game. The Dream are 24-4 and sit atop the Eastern Conference. The team has already clinched its sixth straight playoff berth.
Despite coming off the bench, Schimmel’s Native American fans turn out to watch her play all across the country.
Last week, the Muscogee Creek Nation coordinated a celebration prior to the Dream’s game against the Tulsa Shock that featured dancers from nearly all of Oklahoma’s tribes. Angel Goodrich, a second-year guard for the Shock, is from the Cherokee Nation.
Last month, the Minnesota Lynx partnered with the Prairie Island Indian Community to host Native American Night when the Dream visited.
Seattle is about a four-hour drive from the Umatilla Reservation.
‘’I take a lot of pride in it,” Schimmel said. “Just happening to have the following I have by being Native American, it’s pretty awesome to see all the Native Americans come out to games like in Phoenix or Minnesota. They even travel to Atlanta and watch games. It’s really awesome to see that.”