A group of jersey-wearing teens approached Shoni Schimmel on Saturday, each asking for pictures with the two-time WNBA All-Star after she’d survived a Hoopfest elimination game.
The 27-year-old former Louisville sensation obliged, smiling in each selfie while wearing the same backward hat she wore while carving up defenders moments earlier.
Five years after being drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream, Schimmel was dribbling on pavement in downtown Spokane, teamed up with a pair of ex-Eastern Washington University standouts in the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
“This makes you appreciate basketball,” said Schimmel, a Native American icon who grew up near Pendleton, Oregon, on the Umatilla Reservation. “It’s a chess game, and it’s great to come here and see everyone’s talent.”
Hoopest’s elite women’s division annually features former NCAA Division I standouts, some with brief stints in the WNBA or overseas.
Rarely, though, have players of Schimmel’s pedigree – she was the WNBA All-Star Game MVP as a rookie – played in this tournament. Not in their 20s, anyway.
Schimmel appeared lean, quick and happy, just over a year removed from playing in her most recent professional basketball game, a two-game stint with the Las Vegas Aces.
After starring in Atlanta for two seasons, Schimmel reportedly had trouble staying in shape during her 2016 season with the New York Liberty, played sparingly and suffered a season-derailing concussion.
She opted to sit out the 2017 season to take a break from basketball and be near family, as her grandmother became ill and later died.
Schimmel, who led Louisville to a pair of Elite Eight appearances, attempted to return to the WNBA in 2018, but was ultimately cut by the Liberty and Aces.
The crafty former Hermiston (Oregon) High point guard didn’t leverage her past laurels into a professional contract overseas after being waived, instead starting another hoops-related chapter in her life: coaching.
Schimmel, one of the most electric guards in recent women’s basketball memory, spent the past year in North Dakota, where she was the girls basketball coach at New Town High School on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
But will Schimmel play competitively again?
“I’m just chilling right now. After playing basketball for 23 straight years, I think I deserve a break after everything,” she said. “I’m getting ready to possibly get another coaching job.”
Schimmel, ex-EWU guards Ashli Payne and Tisha Phillips and former New Mexico State forward Abby Scott – a team of Native Americans dubbed All Rez – went 2-1 on Saturday.
Playing in her first Hoopfest since 2008, Schimmel sent younger sister Jude Schimmel’s team – Air Natives – to the consolation bracket after they faced off in a loser-out game.
“I figured we would play them later in the day, but we both lost our first game” said Shoni, who was guarding Jude. “But it’s good to go out and play against your sister.”
Jude, who also starred at Louisvile alongside her sister before playing overseas, is now an ambassador for Nike’s Native-inspired N7 Brand and lives near Pendleton.
The Schimmel sisters, subjects of the basketball documentary “Off the Rez,” were a major inspiration for Native American girls basketball players.
Both were recognizable figures at Hoopfest, as throngs of fans watched their games near Nike Center Court.
“This is my fourth Hoopfest and they’re always pretty fun,” Jude said. “And playing against Shoni is always competitive.”