Before Shoni Schimmel was an All-American in college and an MVP in the WNBA All-Star game, the Native American guard grew up on an Indian reservation less than 300 miles from the Portland high school where she starred as well as KeyArena, home of the Seattle Storm.
With plenty of supporters expected to be in the crowd, the rookie returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in three years Thursday night as the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Dream visit Seattle.
While living on the Umatillia Indian Reservation in Mission, Ore., Schimmel was the subject of a documentary called "Off the Rez" about her unique life as an up-and-coming basketball star. She then attended Franklin High School in Portland and earned a scholarship to Louisville, where she was a four-year starter.
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Schimmel has developed quite a following since being taken by the Dream (17-11) with the eighth overall pick in the draft, and despite starting only two games, she was named a starter for the All-Star game July 19 in Phoenix.
She scored 29 points in the East’s 125-124 victory, and in the same arena Tuesday scored 13 in a 75-67 loss to the Mercury. The crowd was nearly 3,000 above Phoenix’s season average, and the Storm are nearing a sellout for this contest – mainly because of Schimmel.
"I mean everywhere we go, it’s great," said assistant Karleen Thompson, who is filling in for coach Michael Cooper as he recovers from tongue cancer treatment. "It’s just great for the league.”
Schimmel hasn’t played near home since her sophomore season when Louisville took on Portland and Washington State in 2011. Her main focus, though, is helping Atlanta snap out of its funk.
The Dream, who have clinched a playoff berth, have dropped six of eight and lead Washington by 3 1/2 games atop the East with six games left. Leading scorer Angel McCoughtry still believes they have what it takes to make their fourth appearance in the WNBA finals in five seasons.
”I feel like we’re in a good position, we’re a great team, and I think people are underestimating us right now,” said McCoughtry, the league’s third leading scorer at 19.9 points per game. ”We can come out in the playoffs and do our damage.”
The last-place Storm (10-20) simply are trying to make one final push for the playoffs in the West. They ended a seven-game losing streak with Sunday’s 71-65 win over San Antonio to pull within 3 1/2 games of the Stars and Los Angeles, who are tied for third.
Crystal Langhorne scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half, while former Dream forward Camille Little added 15.
”Hopefully, a taste of this can help propel us the rest of the season,” guard Sue Bird said. ”I know that it doesn’t look good for us, but all we can do is take care of ourselves.”
Langhorne scored 23 points against Atlanta on May 30, but McCoughtry’s 18 helped the Dream win 80-69.