"I definitely think at the beginning of the season a lot of things were flowing, and I had a rhythm of everything and was getting used to everybody and playing with them. I don't know exactly what happened, but something happened where I got the short end of the stick, and I'm trying to figure out my place. I'm just dealing with it. It's a business here in the WNBA." -- Shoni Schimmel, WNBA & Atlanta Dream rookie.
The WNBA Atlanta Dream's Shoni Schimmel was voted the MVP of the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game after a 29-point explosion. Those 29 points are an WNBA All-Star record.
Schimmel was voted a starter on the East All-Star team by the fans, despite being a bench player for the Dream. She averages 7 points per game during the regular season. Schimmel's seven three-pointers also set a new All-Star Game record. Her eight assists were the most of any player on the court, and she also grabbed three rebounds and two steals.
A collegiate star, who led her team to an impressive run in the NCAA tournament, the rookie guard has a huge following of fans across the country, particularly with Native American fans, so it's no surprise that she had the highest selling jersey so far this season. Schimmel grew up on a reservation in the tiny, rural, northeast Oregon town of Mission.
Obviously, Schimmel was in a zone at the WNBA All-Star Game. One of the reasons may be that she started the game, voted in by the fans, endorsed and cherished by the masses.
Schimmel felt she belonged, felt she could be free to perform and shine.
"The hoop kept getting bigger and bigger. I wanted to lay it out on the line and that's what I did," Schimmel said about the game.
In the first regular season game after her MVP honor, Shoni followed up with a solid 17-point, 8-assist effort, again in a reserve role. However, in that game and beyond, her minutes continue to be limited and she has yet to start. Certainly, Schimmel has much to learn. She is prone to rookie mistakes, turnovers, poor defense, and streaky shooting. She is experiencing a typically difficult transition from college to professional basketball, in which physical and mental conditioning can be a challenge. She is not a physical specimen. She is not particularly strong, fast, nor does she jump well.
Nevertheless, Schimmel brings a flamboyant, unique style of play to the game which she calls "rez ball."
Some players need to analyze the situation, size-up the opponent, come in and provide energy by coming off the bench. That type of player may be extremely rare.
By contrast, to play at her best, Shoni needs to feel unleashed, unfettered, alive, free to improvise and create. Somehow, coming off the bench does not foster that feeling. As with any elite athlete, if Shoni sits too long and thinks too much, she loses her edge, her effectiveness, her natural feel for the game. If she doesn't start, she doesn't feel that she has the coach's blessing, a "green light."
“Just have that killer instinct and go out there and just play whatever you’re feeling,” said Schimmel. “Hey, you’re open? Pull up. Throw a behind-the-back pass? Why not?”
Eerily, the situation is frighteningly similar to the one basketball legend, Pete Maravich, found himself in as a rookie as a new member of the Atlanta Hawks. Like Schimmel, Maravich joined a winning team, with a veteran roster. After a record-breaking college career, Maravich, was brought along slowly. Despite a huge contract and even bigger expectations, Maravich did not fare well. Fearing that Pete would alienate the veteran players, most of them black, the coaching staff chose to bring Maravich off the bench and limit his minutes. Losing his confidence and not fitting in, Maravich and the Hawks never developed a chemistry.
Maravich played poorly and inconsistently, soon lost his confidence, losing the trust and patience of his team and the coaches. Unable to find a comfortable role, he was quickly deemed an expensive bust. He was labeled a spoiled, insecure, collegiate gunner who played for his coddling father, Press Maravich at LSU; not ready nor made for the NBA. Critics emphasized his lack of natural ability, speed, quickness, and jumping ability.
Once traded away; however, Maravich found his groove with the New Orleans Jazz, becoming a perennial NBA All-Star and a true legend. Despite his well-know, off-the-court struggles, Maravich, once set free, displayed a unique creativity, artistic flair and true gift for the game of basketball.
Could history be repeating itself?
Of course, the current medical condition of the Dream head coach Michael Cooper, complicates the situation. Cooper is on medical leave following surgery for tongue cancer. A member of "Showtime" as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, Cooper is no stranger to successfully dealing with a legendary, creative, unique point guard. Cooper played many years with "Magic" Johnson.
Clearly, prior to his surgery, Cooper cautiously chose to bring Schimmel along slowly. Ironically, Cooper coached the East All-Star team and had no choice but to start Schimmel. Her outstanding performance created a dilemma for Cooper. Although a strong supporter and believer in Schimmel, he now had to decide her short-term future. Keeping her development slow and deliberate or setting her free, were the options. Cooper had to either admit his mistake or save face. However, the decision was now even more complicated, with Cooper gone on medical leave. If interim head coach Karleen Thompson chose to start Schimmel, it could be seen as undermining Cooper's strategy and make him look bad. If she continued to keep Schimmel in a reserve role, she would be seen as a supporting Cooper, potentially maintaining team order and cohesion.
So, for the meantime, Cooper is recuperating and Schimmel sits, as the Dream suffer through a current four-game losing streak.
Can the Dream bounce back and can Schimmel shine once more? Stay tuned. Don't forget the lesson of Pistol Pete in Atlanta.
Excerpts from WNBA.com, ESPN.com, and HuffingtonPost.com.