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Jude Schimmel Puts Team in Sweet 16, Says ‘Why Not Me?’

Louisville senior Jude Schimmel told the national press, “We needed somebody to step up and I said, ‘Why not me?’” following Monday night’s 60-52 victory over No. 6 seed South Florida, propelling Louisville to its third consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. But wouldn’t you love to hear the conversation she had with herself before she took over the game, scoring eight of her 13 points in the final 3 minutes, including six in the last 69 seconds.

“To be honest, I had to pick and choose when I was going to go hard because I knew the last four minutes was going to decide the game, and I wanted to be ready,” Schimmel told ICTMN. “I had like this weird little conversation with myself. I told myself this is your last go-round and if you’re going to move forward to the Sweet 16, somebody has to step up right now. I remember saying, why not me?”

No. 3 Louisville (27-6,) will take on No. 7 Dayton in Albany on Saturday in what will be the Cardinals’ sixth overall Sweet 16 appearance. Unlike Yankees star Derek Jeter, who announced last season would be his final year, and knew exactly when his last game would be, Schimmel has to play every game like it could be her last.

Associated Press

Jude Schimmel works her way past South Florida guard Shalethia Stringfield 23) on March 23, 2015.

“Right now I am cherishing every moment. I haven’t taken anything for granted this season,” she said. “I feel that’s why it’s been such a good year and I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’m playing fearlessly right now. I can’t hold anything back. I’m just giving my best and, hopefully, all the hard work pays off.”

The 5-foot-6 guard is one of just five seniors on the Cardinals team. “I wouldn’t say it’s my team, but I’m definitely one of the leaders this year,” said Schimmel, who is working on her master’s degree in sports management. “This is by far my favorite year, and it’s gone by really fast. It’s been exciting because it’s my turn to shine and I’m not just Shoni’s little sister. I’ve accepted my role as a leader and a playmaker and I’m just really happy where my team is right now.”

The Schimmel family catapulted into the public eye in 2011 with the release of the documentary “Off the Rez.” The story of their mother Ceci Schimmel daring to be great by leaving the rez to coach basketball in Portland and Shoni’s trek from AAU ball to Division I fame became a powerful voice in Indian Country. It inspired Native Americans and young Native females that they can be great and that they can fulfill their greatness in the world as Shoni and Jude have. The documentary has since been released on iTunes in January.

“When we were growing up, I had no idea I would be where I am right now,” Schimmel said. “All the hard work and dedication that I’ve put in over the years has gotten me to this point. All attention of being successful and being Native American just happened. I’d have to say I didn’t expect any of it. We didn’t set out for all of the attention, but I embrace that. It goes back, ‘Why not me?’ If I’m going to be in this position, why not embrace it?”

While “Off the Rez” has inspired Native girls, it has also served as a source of encouragement for men. Wisconsin point guard Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin) will lead the No. 1 Badgers against North Carolina in a Sweet 16 game Thursday night in Los Angeles. Koenig, who is just one of 14 Native men playing Division I ball, is becoming another strong voice in Indian country. He did not grow up on a reservation, but as his connection with the Ho-Chunk Nation and other tribes grows, he hopes to inspire people as the story of the Schimmel’s inspired him.

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He cites a scene from “Off the Rez,” where Natives drove hundreds of miles to see Shoni and Jude play a game in the Oregon high school state playoffs. “The amount of Native Americans that went to their games is insane,” he told The Milwaukee Journal. “Thousands of Native Americans would drive from across the country just to see them play. That was pretty cool to me. I'm hoping that maybe one day they could drive across the country to see me play.”

Jude said she has followed Koenig’s progress at Wisconsin. “We’ve communicated through social media a few times, but nothing more than, ‘Hey, good luck tonight and things like that,’” she said. “I think a lot of people can relate to everything that was shown on the documentary. I don’t really feel like it was directed towards females. Older people, little kids or guys can relate.”

There’s a lot of ball to be played, but if you’re going to dream, dream big she says. Two years ago Jude and Shoni became the first two Native women to play in the NCAA championship game. Wouldn’t it be something to be the first Native woman to play for a national champion?

“Shoni and I never won a high school championship. So if we were to win a national championship with this team that would probably be the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said, allowing herself a little luxury away from the one-game-at-a-time storyline. “But first there’s Dayton.”