Girl Meets Game: Shoni Schimmel
Shoni Schimmel was just 4 years old when she made her debut on the hardwood. Growing up on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon, the youngster was immediately captivated by the free-flowing, intense style of "rez ball."
"I first played at an annual tournament on the reservation where 4-to-6-year-olds play with little hoops and a little ball," said the senior guard for the Louisville Cardinals. "Ever since then, I've had this passion and drive to play that has just continued to grow."
Indeed, even before that first tournament, Schimmel heard plenty of basketball tales around the family home.
"Back in the day, my grandma played on the reservation and she would always talk about the two-dribble limit," she said.
Schimmel's mother also played at a local community college and began coaching AAU ball as her eight children came up through the basketball ranks.
Even still, Schimmel tried her hand at plenty of other sports, but always came back to basketball.
"I just loved going out there and playing my own style of basketball," she said. "With rez ball, everyone just plays their own game and when you put it all together, it fits. You don't overthink things, you just go out and play."
It was that creative approach to the game that revealed a unique talent in Schimmel, who harbored ambitions to play well beyond the reservation from an early age.
"I was pretty young when I began to dream about playing professionally," she said. "At first I wanted to be the first girl in the NBA, but that switched to the WNBA once it was formed."
After moving on to high school and college ball, she says that aspects of her game still mimic the rez ball she first fell in love with.
"I think I've grown from that style and been able to put both together," she said. "I'd definitely never want to lose that."
Having played for the national championship in 2013, today much of her devotion to basketball stems from the camaraderie among teammates.
"To be able to be on a team and play together and be the best you can be, that's pretty cool," she said. "I wake up every day and go to practice for the love of the game -- to carry on what we did last year."
She also feels an even larger commitment to the Native American community rooting her on from the stands and beyond.
"I definitely know there are a lot of people watching, so I'm doing it for them, too," she said. "Not many Native Americans make it off the reservation, go to college and get the chance to fulfill their basketball dreams. I'm here to show them they can."