Pioneers of their generation, the following athletes have conquered a variety of obstacles. Many were fortunate enough to extend their playing careers beyond college, into the pros and overseas. Through their stories of overcoming adversity, they have helped overwrite stereotypes and allow for more Native Americans to receive opportunities playing Indian country’s favorite pastime.
No one addressed more of the challenges Native American athletes face than Seattle Storm guard Angel Goodrich, who was picked up by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm following campaigns with the Tulsa Shock and a Russian pro league. The Cherokee athlete described her personal journey in defeating stereotypes with us in September.
“I came from an all-Native high school hearing all the statistics how Native athletes don’t make it. That has really pushed me to work hard.”
“In my job, I get to do something I love every single day. There’s still people looking up to me, sending me emails and letters supporting me and it means a lot.”
“It’s a great honor and I really take it to heart when I see a little girl looking up to me. I hope I can continue to make people proud.”
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Atlanta Dream shooting guard Shoni Schimmel might have the largest following of any player in the WNBA. Despite her role as a reserve, the 23-year-old Umatilla tribal member was voted to her second-consecutive All-Star team last season. She talked about showcasing her ability in May.
“I’m not a rookie anymore. I think the All-Star Game last year showed everybody in the league I can play. (She earned All-Star MVP last season.)”
“I’ve always believed in myself...I just need[ed] the opportunity–and what better opportunity than to do it during the All-Star Game, just by having fun and being myself?”
Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsisms, Jr.
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When journalists discovered Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsisms, Jr. during the 2009 NCAA Tournament, he was quickly added to the list of the greatest names in all of sports. The 7-foot-1 Navajo earned Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors for Alabama State, anchoring the Hornets to a conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Since then, he has enjoyed an active playing career that has taken him to professional leagues in Cyprus, Romania, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
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Former standout turned coaching graduate assistant Tahnee Robinson will be mentoring a Native American guard, MorningRose Tobey at University of Nevada, Reno. Robinson (Northern Cheyenne) was a WNBA hopeful who played in Poland and serves as a Nike N7 ambassador. She illustrated her challenges and relationship with Tobey in September:
“I have known Morning for a long time now,” she said. “Our families are really close, so I've watched and supported her through her career.”
“For me, there were a lot of challenges at first. One of the hardest challenges was just leaving my home and family. I lived in Wyoming my whole life. So when I came to UNR, it was so scary. I felt alone and didn't make friends very quickly. I was pretty shy, so it was a hard transition.”
“But once you get used to your surroundings you realize that it’s not so scary anymore. It’s just different, but you learn to deal with those differences. I also had a great support system from all my family back at home encouraging me daily and never allowing me to give up on myself.”
“I also had a great support system here at UNR from the coaching staff. I intend to be there for her, all the girls for that matter, even if she just needs someone to talk to.”
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Recounting her life experiences, Jude Schimmel debuted her memoir “Dreamcatcher” this year. She had hoped to be selected in the WNBA draft, but found herself out of basketball for the moment, though she continues to tour the country speaking—most notably in November, when she moderated a discussion with President Obama at the 7th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. The Umatilla tribal member detailed the mission behind authoring a book in April:
“I get to tell my story. But more importantly, I’m just trying to make a positive difference for as many people as possible.
I am so passionate about making a difference, for Native Americans especially. So writing about where I grew up, [and] my relationship with my family wasn’t hard.
But talking about my accomplishments was a little difficult because I’ve always tried to stay level-headed about it all.”
Of course it goes without saying Jude Schimmel's recent interview with President Barack Obama accompanied by other native youth was a life accomplishment very few will ever obtain.
Obama turned to basketball star Jude Schimmel and asked, "Am I supposed to make remarks first, or are you going to say something?" Schimmel laughed and said, "I think we can do whatever you want." Photo: Vincent Schilling
SEE RELATED: Obama Surprise at WHTNC 2015; Shares Stage With Native Youth (and Jude Schimmel.)
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Before Shoni Schimmel, there was Jenna Plumley—a highly-touted recruit who wound up in the starting lineup as a freshman at Oklahoma in 2007. After two seasons, the Otoe-Missouri tribal member transferred to Lamar, where she led the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 19 years. She parlayed that success into a professional stint in Italy.
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He has a career stat-line that had never been put up by any basketball greats at Oregon State, which includes Naismith Hall of Famer Gary Payton. Only Luiseno tribal member Joe Burton racked up 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 300 assists. Perhaps more notable, he was the first Native American to earn a basketball scholarship what was then the Pac-10 conference (it has since expanded to 12 teams). The 6-7, 290-pounder known as, “Big Joe,” has ascended the basketball ranks to France’s Second Division.
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Adding to his legend seemingly every year, Wellpinit, Washington native Preston Wynne led EWE Baskets Oldenburg (Germany) to the Bundersliga Championship in his rookie season. The Spokane tribal member then returned to the northwest to earned MVP of the 6-foot-and-under elite bracket of Spokane Hoopfest in guiding the first Native American team to ever win a championship. He started his college career in his mid-20s, noting the potential of Native Americans he’s played ball with and against.
“There are just a lot of people who don’t make it to the level I’m at and they have a good chance to.”
I’d like to go back and help them the best I can.”
A lot of people on the Indian circuit are just as good as me if not better. They just haven’t gone to college or are planning to go.”