We Are Family: Schimmel Sisters Unite, Propel Louisville to Final Four
"Those Schimmel sisters are the most exciting players in the country right now," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who has led his own team to the Final Four again, but on the opposite side of the bracket as the U of L, told The Associated Press.
"I watched the game and saw pictures of them when they were young," he said. "The road those kids traveled and where they are and no one knows their story probably. What they've done the last week has made everyone stand up and take notice of these two kids and the joy that they play. The fearlessness that they play with, they love the game and you can tell they love the game. They are tough kids."
The Schimmels, two of seven siblings, grew up in Mission, Oregon, on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Shoni was the breakout star, attracting the attention of Louisville coach Jeff Walz and assistant Steph Norman.
"Obviously, Shoni was a year older and Shoni was the one that got all the press, all the pub. But we both really liked how Jude competed," Walz said. "I mean, she was kind of a little bit everywhere. She's a pest. She'll get out there and guard you and knock down some shots."
Jude Schimmel used to tell her older sister, Shoni, she didn't want to play basketball at the same college as her.
The two pictured themselves living out a sibling rivalry like the ones on Disney Channel shows they grew up watching in Oregon, competing against each other with bragging rights on the line.
But as the world is finding out, they're so much better together. (Related story: Jude Schimmel Signs With University Of Louisville)
United at Louisville, the Schimmel sisters have guided the Cardinals on an unexpected Final Four run, knocking off Brittney Griner and top-ranked Baylor in a stunner and then eight-time national champion Tennessee to earn a trip to New Orleans. They'll take on California in the Final Four, i.e. the national seminfinals, Sunday. (Related story: 'One of the Biggest Upsets in History': Native Guard Shoni Schimmel Drives Louisville Past Top-Seeded Baylor)
“I’m hoping after the Tennessee game that people understand that we’re not just going to win one magically and then be done,” Shoni told The Courier-Journal. “I hope they understand that we are the real deal right now, that we’re ready to go out and win basketball games.”
"It was just all or nothing, go out there and put it all on the line," Shoni said, according to WDRB.com. "Nobody wants us to win, nobody wants to see us beat Baylor or Tennessee, and now we did and guess what, we're going to the Final Four."
“It's an unbelievable story. That's really what it is,'' coach Walz said. ''And it's one we aren't planning on it to end right now. We ruined the entire party. We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody. It's a journey and we're going to continue.''
And that journey is continuing, with the Schimmel sisters together.
"I tricked her," said Jude, a sophomore and one year behind her sister. "I was really going to go to the school she went to." (Related story: Jude Awakening: Shoni Schimmel’s Sister Will Join Her at Louisville)
Shoni has been the star of the show, earning most outstanding player honors in the Oklahoma City regional with her combination of accurate 3-point shooting and fearless drives to the basket. Maybe most memorably, she went right at Griner – the 6-foot-8 Baylor star who counts the NCAA blocks record among her many career achievements – and went airborne, spun with her back to the basket and sunk an over-her-head shot while getting fouled. (Related story: 'I Am Shoni Schimmel!': The All-Everything Native Point Guard Looks to Take It to Tennessee Tonight)
"I remember [Jude] sitting there saying she didn't want to go to the same school," Shoni said. "But it was a blessing when she did."
During a preseason exhibition trip to Vancouver two years ago, the Cardinals made a stop at the reservation the Schimmels call home. This week, their parents drove all the way from Oregon to Oklahoma City – some 1,600 miles – to see them. Fans in the crowd held up signs that said "Rez ball" and the Schimmels' jersey numbers, 22 and 23. (Related story: Shoni and Jude Schimmel Return to Umatilla Reservation)
"We owe a lot to where we came from, our family and also our coaches and teammates, but really it's just a blessing," Jude said. "It just so happened we made it to the same school, and I'm just thankful."
The Schimmel Sisters and the Louisville Cardinals face the Cal Bears Sunday, April 7, at 6:30 p.m./ET in New Orleans in a national semifinal matchup. Watch the game on ESPN (check your local listings).
This report was compiled from reporting by The Associated Press's Jeff Latzke, with contributions from AP basketball writer Doug Feinberg, Jeff Latzke of The Courier-Journal, Eric Crawford of WDRB.com, and John Altavilla of The Hartford Courant.