John Barkley may be the only coach to start a game with Shoni Schimmel sitting on the bench.

Schimmel, now a University of Louisville junior, was just 11 years old when Barkley coached her in the Basketball Against Alcohol and Drugs Tournament on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Mission.

It wasn’t long before he realized her talent and took her off the bench.

“You knew she was very special because she played a very special style of basketball,” Barkley said. “She played more like a boy than she did a girl.”

Barkley said she and her sister Jude — a sophomore guard for the Cardinals — adopted that style after playing against their older brother, Shae Schimmel. It’s this aggression — and the support of their parents — that propelled the sisters to lead the Cardinals to New Orleans on Tuesday, where they will play the University of Connecticut for the NCAA women’s national basketball title.

The sisters played for Hermiston High School and lived in Mission until their parents, Ceci Moses and Rick Schimmel, moved them to Portland. Moses ended up coaching them at Franklin High School.

Barkley is not surprised at the Schimmel sisters’ success. Their energy and unique playing style has always set them apart from other players.

The pair has drawn attention for their unscripted, instinctive style known as “Rez Ball.”?

“Rez Ball is probably best defined as a freelance style of play that’s fast-paced ... if that means shooting an NBA 3-pointer or taking it to the rack or making a (behind-the-)back pass — it’s that freestyle play where there’s no reins on you,” Barkley said. “It’s pretty much get it and go, and create it as you go.”

John Barkley’s son Josh, a Pilot Rock High School senior who plays point guard for an American Indian team called Nixyaawii Nation, said he learned to make behind-the-back passes by playing with the sisters over the years.

“It’s fun because you don’t know what’s going to happen,”?he said.

Nixyaawii Nation — comprised of students from Pilot Rock High School, Pendleton High School and Nixyaawii Community School, where Barkley played during his junior year — competes against other American Indian high school teams from across the West.

Barkley said the Schimmel sisters have inspired him to make an impact on other American Indian children. He has applied to Mount Hood Community College and Northwest Indian College to study biology and play basketball and hopes to one day be a fisheries technician.

The sisters, now on the national stage, have not forgotten their local roots. In July they brought their teammates to the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center gym, where they used to play as children, to teach a summer basketball program. They spoke about the importance of academics and the hard work it takes to be a strong athlete, said Lloyd Commander, BAAD Tournament coordinator.

It is this same can-do message John Barkley said the sisters have shared with American Indians across the country.

“Your dreams can come true — that there’s always a sense of hope and opportunity if you just commit yourself. If you dedicate yourself to doing the right thing, to performing, to putting in the hard work and the hours that’s required to be successful,” he said.

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Contact Chris Rizer at crizer@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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