June 29, 2013
Story courtesy of John Holt, USA Basketball - Shoni Schimmel still smiles whenever someone approaches her with a compliment about the run that she and her Louisville teammates experienced during the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The magical journey, which began with a 74-49 first-round win over Middle Tennessee on March 24, ended 16 days later in the national championship game with an upsetting loss to Connecticut.
Although Schimmel and Louisville didn't ultimately win the crown, she is still proud of what was accomplished during the Cardinals' historic 2012-13 season.
"As a team, we came together and really understood what basketball was about, and that's what got us to the Final Four and to that national championship game," Schimmel said. "We believed in ourselves and believed in one another and had each other's back."
Nearly three months since that NCAA title game defeat, the rising senior guard today is back in Colorado Springs, Colo., for USA Women's World University Games Team training camp.
"It's been great, just being able to get back and get back in the flow of things with everybody and get everything going," Schimmel said. "Last night we played our first scrimmage together. It was pretty fun, but at the same time we weren't all together yet."
During the five weeks in between the conclusion of trials and the start of training camp, Schimmel was back at Louisville enrolled in two summer school sessions.
"I took an American Sign Language class," she said. "It was actually a lot of fun."
On the hardwood, from Schimmel's point of view, dishing out an assist is more rewarding than scoring two points. Her favorite part of the game is distributing and she's always had an unselfish mentality that is built around getting her teammates involved before herself.
"It's easier for me to sit there and pass the ball and watch someone make an easy shot," she noted. "I like to make that spectacular pass."
"I'm the competitive one out of all of them," Schimmel said of the family basketball battles. "I'll be getting mad and yelling at them and stuff like that just because I'm so competitive. My dad knows how to push my buttons a little bit, so me and him bump heads a little bit. But it's always fun, and very competitive."
Following her freshman season at Louisville, Schimmel's sister, Jude, joined the Cardinal program. Originally, the plan was never for she and her sister to attend the same school, but Schimmel admitted as the pair grew older, the idea of playing together in college became more intriguing. She states that when she and Jude were kids, they watched the Disney Channel original film titled "Double Teamed," which was based on the life stories of professional basketball players Heather and Heidi Burge, who are twins. The movie inspired Shoni and Jude that someday they could have the same level of success as the Heather and Heidi.
"We were like, `oh that's us to a tee because they both played together, and then, they went off into the WNBA and played against each other,"' Schimmel recalled.
These days, the sisters communicate all the time and even live together at school. At the same time, however, they rarely are allowed to room with each other during team road trips.
"She knows my every move when it comes to basketball," Schimmel said of Jude. "Off the court we're just as close."
The best moment of Schimmel's time at Louisville occurred during this season's memorable NCAA Tournament run. In the regional semifinal, she and her Louisville teammates faced defending national champion Baylor. Heading into the game, analysts didn't believe the Cardinals stood a chance. And honestly, could anyone blame them? Louisville had put together an impressive regular season, but Baylor appeared unstoppable. They entered the tournament as the top overall seed, featured the reigning National Player of the Year in Brittney Griner and were winners of 74 of their last 75 contests.
Yet despite what outsiders were saying and predicting, Louisville wouldn't be fazed. The Cardinals led by 10 points at the intermission and extended their lead to 17 with 7 ½ minutes to play, before holding on for an 82-81 upset win for the ages. Schimmel, the Oklahoma City Regional Most Outstanding Player, led the way with 22 points, connecting on 5-of-8 3-pointers and also contributing a trio of steals.
"You still get that excitement," Schimmel said looking back on the biggest win in Louisville women's basketball history. "You still think about it, and it's still there. I've only watched (the game) once. It was pretty crazy though.
"It was exciting. I was grinning the whole time watching it."
Monday, the USA World University Games Team will depart for competition in Kazan, Russia. Having won gold at the World University Games the last four times USA Basketball sent an entry, Schimmel believes the USA has what it takes to keep its streak alive.
"It's not really much pressure," she said. "It's more you want to go out there and keep doing it."
When the team returns home on July 16, there won't be any relaxation time for Schimmel. Instead, she'll be boarding another flight. This time: to Los Angeles where she will meet her Louisville teammates at the 2013 ESPYS (the Cardinals' win over Baylor has been nominated in the award ceremony's Best Upset category).
"It's a pretty hectic summer," Schimmel said, "but at the same time, it's very exciting and very thrilling."
While the recent months have seen Schimmel evolve into someone with whom everyone surrounding women's college basketball is now familiar, her No. 1 focus remains true.
"It's awesome to be able to sit there and someone to say, `Hey you're Shoni Schimmel or something like that,'" Schimmel acknowledged. "It's cool. But at the same time, I'm just out there to play basketball."
With one more collegiate season to go, expect Schimmel to continue progressing as well as to develop plenty more moments for her supporters to smile about. And if she's fortunate enough to come home with a gold medal, anticipate the smiles to be bigger than ever before.