NEW ORLEANS – When Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel whipped a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass to younger sister Jude for a fast-break layup in the women’s Final Four, former WNBA player Ryneldi Becenti was on a Native American reservation watching on TV — and grinning at the sight of a freewheeling style of basketball she knows quite well.
“It’s funny,” said Becenti, an Arizona State star in the 1990s who played for the Phoenix Mercury and then professionally in Europe. “You can see the ‘rez ball’ in them. ... She threw it behind the back, already knew where her sister was, and they don’t hesitate to do it.”
Louisville’s string of upsets in the NCAA tournament — they’ve knocked off Baylor, Tennessee and California in succession — has been followed closely by Native Americans nationwide because of the captivating play of the Schimmel sisters, who grew up on the Umatilla reservation until about five years ago, when the family moved to an Oregon community nearby.
The sisters are getting a lot of mainstream attention and relishing it because it helps them promote the idea that there are great young athletes on reservations around the country who deserve a look.
Sometimes their fans drive hours to see them play, and the sisters chat with fans after games whenever they can. “We know how exciting it is for them,” Shoni Schimmel said, “but it’s also an honor and a privilege for us.”
The tournament has been an eventful one for the family. Parents Cici and Rick Schimmel, who’ve been together more than 20 years, vowed to finally get married if Louisville shocked Baylor, which it did, thanks in part of the sisters combining for seven three-pointers.
While the sisters left the comfort of the reservation, they did not leave behind the artistic style of play with which they felt comfortable. “It’s just magic when those two are on the court,” said Don Wetzel, who operates the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.
One of the reasons the sisters chose to play at Louisville is because coach Jeff Walz was willing to foster their creativity. “Some coaches think I’m crazy, but I want them to go out there and have fun,” Walz said.