Dream’s Schimmel a star in more ways than one

When the Dream selected Shoni Schimmel in the first round of the WNBA draft, they got more than just a point guard.

They got a mix of Showtime, Silicon Valley and Tony Robbins rolled into one 5-foot-9 Native-American bundle of smiles and shots.

“We figured there was a chance she could be there (at the eighth pick), but when she was there, that was our draft,” coach Michael Cooper said.

That’s true in more ways than one. She could have a meaningful impact on the Dream’s win-loss record and bottom line.

Schimmel’s story has been chronicled by HBO Sports and ESPN: She is one of fewer than 3,000 members of Umatilla Confederation, a group of three tribes of Native Americans in the northwest region of the United States and parts of Canada. She grew up one of eight siblings, many of whom played basketball, a sport her mother and father also played. Schimmel left the reservation to play high school basketball in Portland, Ore., where she was coached by her mom.

Schimmel signed with Louisville, where she became one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters. A younger sister, Jude, also eventually signed to play for the Cardinals.

Along the way, because of her celebrity status in the Native American world as one of just a handful of standout college athletes, Schimmel became a social-media star.

More than 18,000 people follow her on Twitter at @schimmel23, one of several social-media platforms she uses. It’s not as many as follow other WNBA stars such as Candace Parker (200,000) or Maya Moore (112,000), but Schimmel has also yet to play a game as a pro.

Her tweets, blogs and photos on Instagram are avidly followed by friends, family and the Umatilla Confederation. She knows it. She embraces it because of her heritage.

Schimmel is one of 30 Native American professional athletes, according to the www.ndnsports.com. Because of her status, she enjoys being a role model for the Native American children who not only live on the reservation where her family still resides, but on or reservations all over the country.

“It’s who I am,” she said. “I grew up on the reservation for 17 years. It made me the person I am today. You don’t hear of a lot Native-Americans doing what I’m doing.”

Her tweets are typical of a young adult: Inspirational quotes, photos and snippets about her day are the norm. Most of her tweets, even something as simple as “Some people will never get it; && that’s okay life goes on” are made favorites (145 for that tweet) or retweeted (96).

The Dream were aware of Schimmel’s following when they selected her, but they didn’t predict the impact she would have on their social-media efforts.

“That wasn’t the centerpiece of any conversations we had regarding our draft board,” general manager Angela Taylor said.

They started to get a sense of what was to come 20 minutes after the draft when the communications office received an email from a Native American member of the media, asking for an interview.

Then an email came from Louisville, letting the Dream know that Schimmel had a large online following that they would be heard from.

The team’s Facebook likes have gone up by 28.8 percent (from 28,491 to 36,700) since the draft. Before Schimmel was drafted, none of their posts dating to October, when the Dream were in the WNBA finals, received more than 1,000 total interactions of likes, comments or shares. Anything involving Schimmel gets more, much more. A photo of her arriving at the Dream offices received more than 5,000 interactions.

The team’s Instragram followers have gone up by 21.4 percent (from 4,601 to 5,585) since the draft.

The team’s Twitter followers have gone up by almost 8 percent (from 15,300 to 16,500) since the draft.

The team has received requests from several teams to have Schimmel do a postgame meet-and-greet or autograph session when the Dream visit their venues this season. Those events aren’t common.

The team has heard from media outlets in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Mississippi, New York and Washington all requesting info, interviews and/or photos.

“She’s made herself accessible to Indian country in general and to her people at home,” said Chuck Sams, communications director for the Umatilla Confederation. “She comes and visits with young people. She’s an excellent ambassador for our tribe to the community as a whole.”

Cooper said he won’t be surprised if most road games feel like home games because of the crowds, many composed of Native Americans, who will come to see Schimmel.

The game in Seattle is virtually sold out, and the team has learned on social media from several people that large groups are going to see her in Phoenix and Tulsa.

“It’s about being a role model and a positive influence,” she said. “Not many people do what I do every day. Travel the world and enjoy the things I do. I feel like I’m giving back and sharing with them.”

But Schimmel is more than just a social-media boost. She is a basketball player, and that’s why the Dream selected her.

“She has this incredible understanding of the game of basketball,” Taylor said. “She’s a great 3-point shooter and passer. We talked about her basketball skills.”

Cooper recruited Schimmel when he was at USC and she was at Franklin High School in Portland. He watched her develop at Louisville. He said Schimmel reminds him of former teammate Magic Johnson because she is big for a point guard, but has the ability to make the 3-pointer and put teammates in positions to succeed. She made a school-record 387 3-pointers, knocking down 34.4 percent of those attempts.

“She has an NBA 3-point range,” he said. “You have to guard her four steps beyond the normal 3-point range, which will open up the floor and passing lanes. Championships are won in the paint, but it’s nice to have a shooter who can open it up a bit more.”

Cooper said he thinks Schimmel will be the team’s starting point guard when the season opens at home against San Antonio on May 16.

She said it’s an honor to be a starter and to be compared with Johnson. She rarely misspeaks discussing basketball, the reservation, her family or her followers.

That shows the leadership that Cooper, Taylor and Sams said is a natural gift. That gift is one of the reasons that she is comfortable being a role model who uses basketball to show kids that they can succeed off the reservations.

“I embrace it,” she said. “It’s crazy to see what basketball can do for you. It’s kept me out of bad things like (becoming) addicted to drugs and alcohol. It’s brought me to school. I had to get good grades to play basketball. I never wanted it taken for me.”