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Atlanta Dream coach sees a lot of Magic in former Franklin guard

by: COURETSY OF UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE - Former Louisville Cardinals guard Shoni Schimmel, the No. 8 pick in last weeks WNBA draft, is in camp with her new team, the Atlanta Dream, and ready to launch her professional career.Soon after the Atlanta Dream selected Shoni Schimmel with the No. 8 overall pick in the WNBA draft, coach

Michael Cooper had a conversation with his new guard.

“This is where you’re going to be ‘Showtime’ Schimmel,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s words carry a lot of weight. In the 1980s, he was an integral part of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, playing alongside legends such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Cooper says there are a lot of parallels between Schimmel, a former star at Franklin High and recent NCAA 3-point shooting contest champion, and NBA legend Johnson, with one main


“I see a lot of Magic in her,” Cooper says. “But she’s a better 3-point shooter. Magic didn’t become a good 3-point shooter until the end of his career.”

Schimmel’s journey to the WNBA draft was an unlikely one in many ways.

The second child in a family of eight kids, she grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, near Pendleton. During her first two years in high school, Schimmel and her younger sister, Jude, played for Hermiston High. Then, before Shoni’s junior year, the girls transferred to Franklin, after their mother, Ceci Moses, and father, Rick Schimmel, were hired as the Quakers’ head coach and assistant coach, respectively.

From a very early age, Shoni never wavered from her ultimate goal: To play in the WNBA.

The University of Louisville product’s belief in herself made the WNBA draft in Uncasville, Conn., a strange moment for her dad.

“It was exciting,” Rick Schimmel says, “but it wasn’t like we were nervous. This is what Shoni expected. This is what she said she was going to do.

“And it’s hard to doubt her when she says she’s going to do something.”

Although Shoni was one of the top high school recruits in the country, more than one observer maintained an air of skepticism surrounding her potential for success. The 5-9 playmaker/scorer had out-of-this-world ballhandling ability and seemingly unlimited range on her shot. But some wondered whether her 25-foot 3-pointers and behind-the-back passes would translate well into the college game.

“Everyone said she would struggle within a system,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz says.

Walz and the Louisville coaching staff trusted in Schimmel’s game, though. Walz taught her when and where she could be flashy, but he also gave her freedom.

“We had faith in her,” Walz says. “She learned, and she grew in her career. She was a student of the game. She wanted to get better. She wanted to continue to improve her game, and that’s what she did.”

She played alongside Jude her last three seasons at Louisville. Schimmel led the Cardinals to the NCAA Division I championship game in 2013, a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011 and the Elite Eight in 2014.

Shoni became Louisville’s No. 2 all-time scorer and an All-American.

“Each year in college I got better and better, and I was smarter and more mature about my style of play,” she says.

Cooper had his eye on Schimmel from the time she was at Franklin; he was head coach at USC at the time. But it was when he watched Schimmel score eight points in the final 18 seconds of the Cardinals’ 76-73 Elite Eight loss to Maryland this year that Cooper knew he wanted her on the Dream.

“She showed out,” Cooper says. “That took me over the top.”

On draft night, when the eighth pick came up and Schimmel’s name was still on the board, Cooper had no doubt who Atlanta was going to take.

“It was meant to be,” Cooper says. “We really didn’t think we had a shot at her. When she was there at No. 8, it was a no-brainer. Everyone in our war room started clapping, and we got pretty excited.”

The moment she heard her name called was a dream come true for Schimmel.

“It was my dream as a little girl to play in the WNBA, and now it’s all coming true,” she says. “That’s such a huge thing for me. Everything I’ve worked for and everything I’ve dreamed of is falling into place.

“I’m ready for it all. I’m two feet in and ready for anything at this point in my life.”

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW/COURTESY OF ATLANTA DREAM - Shoni Schimmel is expecting to be an attraction in the WNBA as well, after sharing her first-round draft pick night with league President Laurel J. Richie.

Pro life begins

Schimmel showed up at the draft a few days early so she could attend player meetings and learn about her upcoming life as a professional athlete.

“You got to learn from different people,” she says of the pre-draft experience. “It was media people, it was fashion people. It was a bunch of meetings that were very helpful. It’s something that will stay with me in the WNBA.”

Schimmel went back to Louisville for a while after the draft to finish a few classes toward her communications degree. She reported to training camp on Sunday in Atlanta. The Dream will play one exhibition game, May 11 at home against the New York Liberty. Atlanta’s WNBA 34-game regular season starts at home May 16 against the San Antonio Silver Stars and ends Aug. 17 at the Connecticut Sun.

Schimmel also has used some of her recent time picking an agent. Her new manager, however, will have nothing to do with how much she gets paid by the Dream. As one of the Nos. 5-8 picks in the draft, Schimmel’s salary will be set in stone for her first four years in the league. She will make $44,835 her rookie season, $45,732 her second season, $50,305 her third year and $57,165 her fourth year.

“There’s nothing to negotiate,” Schimmel says. “It’s a little bit different from the NBA. That’s not a problem because, yeah, I’d love to get paid a lot, but at the same time, I’m just willing to play the game of basketball and enjoy it and go out there and love it.”

Schimmel’s agent will help her negotiate endorsement deals, however. She says she already has received offers from Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Jordan.

“I haven’t picked any of those yet,” she says. “I’ll have my agent help me with that.”

Schimmel could be an attractive marketing tool, with her unique style of play, Native American heritage, friendly smile and more. She has quite a following nationwide, especially among other Native Americans, of course. One sign of her ability as a drawing card: Atlanta’s one visit to Seattle this season, for an Aug. 7 game against the

WNBA Storm, already reportedly has been sold out.

Finances and marketing are just two aspects of Schimmel’s new life that will force her to make adjustments. While she has been far away from most of her family for the past four years — the other Schimmels now live in Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation — she did have

Jude at Louisville three of those years.

In Atlanta, Schimmel won’t have Jude to lean on. But Walz says Schimmel is emotionally mature enough to cope with life as a professional athlete.

“There’s no doubt good things are in front of her,” Walz says. “She’ll do great. It’s something we’ve talked to her about. She’ll handle it well.”

Freedom to make plays

Walz says he is just as confident that Schimmel will succeed on the court.

“Her game will transfer well,” he says. “Her ability to pass the ball, her ability to make others around her better, will go well in the WNBA.

“Shoni can stretch a defense. She shoots the ball extremely well. She does the things you want a guard to do.”

Cooper agrees. The first-year Atlanta coach, who coached the Los Angeles Sparks to WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002 and a finals trip in 2003, says the Dream will play a style of basketball that fits Schimmel’s game perfectly.

“We have always been a running team, but we wanted to run even more,” he says. “That was the intriguing part of her.”

Because of Schimmel’s ability to create her own shot, Cooper sees her as a hybrid guard who will play both the 1 and the 2.

“Point guard is probably not her main position,” Cooper says. “She’s more of a 2, because she’s a scoring point. But Shoni has the ability to make things happen, make other players better, and she sees things before they actually develop. That’s why she’s such a good passer.

“And, with Shoni, you’ve got to guard her three or four steps behind the 3-point line. With that range, that opens up the passing lanes even more.”

Much like Walz did, Cooper plans to allow Schimmel a lot of freedom.

“Magic Johnson would not be Magic Johnson without the magic,” says Cooper, a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers. “Shoni Schimmel will not be Shoni Schimmel if she’s not allowed to play the way she plays.

“I’m going to let her be her. That’s Shoni Schimmel. If you deny her that or tell her that’s not what you want out of that position, then you’re not going to get the true accent of what she is.

“She’s a player who makes big plays. She likes to flash.”

When Schimmel does flash, she has the ability to bring the crowd to their feet. And Cooper is willing to accept whatever mistakes come when Schimmel decides to flash.

“With a player of her caliber, you have to take chances and let her throw the ball away when she’s trying to thread the needle,” Cooper says. “That’s something I can live with, because more times than not she’s going to make the play.

“You’re going to have to turn a blind eye, because the things she does will be more good than bad. The behind-the-back passes, the no-look passes, the cockiness that comes after she scores, we want that whole gambit.

“We’re going to put the ball in her hands.”

Work to be done

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Shoni Schimmel (No. 23) and sister Jude drew huge crowds playing for Franklin High, and Shoni is expecting to be an attraction in the WNBA as well.There are things, however, that Cooper will want Schimmel to work on this season. First on the list is her conditioning.

“This is a different style of play up here,” Cooper says. “She’s willing to work in that aspect. She knows she has to get in better condition, because great ones are in the best condition.”

Cooper, a 6-5 defensive standout as a player, says he also will work with Schimmel on how she runs the team with the ball in her hands.

“She’s going to have to do a better job of reading the floor,” Cooper says. “That’s something I can help her with. Here, you’ve got some kids who are just as good as you are. Some of the

lazy passes, those are going to be steals; in college, you’re able to get away with it.”

Schimmel is joining a successful franchise. Atlanta has reached the playoffs in five of its six seasons and been to the finals three times, including last year, when the Dream lost to the Minnesota Lynx.

And the one thing Cooper is not worried about is Schimmel losing confidence.

“Rookies come into this league sometimes and when they’re not able to do the things they’re accustomed to doing because of the competition level, they have a tendency to get down on themselves,” Cooper says. “I don’t think that will happen to her. She’s going to have her rookie mistakes, and she’s going to hit the wall at some point. But Shoni has her swag.”

Schimmel says she is ready to do everything her coach asks of her.

“I’m willing to learn anything,” she says, “and I’m willing to do anything when it comes to basketball, because I love the sport that much. I know I’m going to be successful at anything I put my mind to.”

That attitude makes Cooper believe that Schimmel can be a phenomenal pro.

“I expect her to come in and be great right away,” he says. “She’s going to have a very, very, very long, successful professional career.”

If Cooper’s prediction comes true, Schimmel will not only continue to make her dreams come true, she will inspire a generation of Native Americans to achieve their own dreams.

“People don’t know a lot of Native Americans who are successful,” Schimmel says. “To be one of the first big Native American athletes of this generation, it’s huge for me.

“I’m honored and ready for whatever it’s going to bring upon my life. I want to be that idol for Native Americans. I feel like I’m going in that direction and doing all the right things not only for myself, but for the Native American people.”

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