Sunday, August 10, 2014
Sunday Cardinal Couple -- Gary Witherspoon reviews Shoni's road trip
SUNDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
- Gary Witherspoon reviews the Atlanta Dream road trip
- USA U18 to face Canada in FIBA Americas Finals
THE ATLANTA DREAM'S WESTERN TOUR IN THE WNBA
During the week of August 5-8, the Atlanta Dream went west and lost to the Phoenix
Mercury (75-67), the Seattle Storm (88-68) and the Los Angeles Sparks (80-77 in OT).
While the Dream have a better record than the Storm and the Sparks and the Dream
won previous games at home against both teams, it was not surprising that the Dream
lost all three of these games. The Dream have already clinched the first seed in the
playoffs in the East, and they are too far behind the Mercury and the Lynx to catch them
for a top seed in a possible finals series. On the other hand, both the Storm and the
Sparks are in close battles for playoff spots in the West.
The game with the Mercury was the most interesting from a competitive perspective
with the Mercury having had a recent 16 game winning streak and supporting the best
record in the league. The Dream were without their 6-5 All-Star post player, Erika De
Souza, who also is their leading rebounder and second leading scorer. De Souza was
recovering from the flu. Angel McCoughtry got banged up early in the second half and
missed most of the second half. Playing Brittney Griner without De Souza and playing
much of the second half without McCoughtry, the Dream did well to keep the game
close and to have a chance to win it in the fourth quarter.
In the three games, Angel McCoughtry averaged 11 points on 10 for 30 two pointers
and 2 for 11 three pointers. She averaged 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist and 3
turnovers in 27 minutes per game. Shoni Schimmel averaged 13 points per game on 9
for 20 two pointers and 7 for 20 on three pointers. She also averaged 4 rebounds, 1
steal, 5 assists, and 3 turnovers in 31 minutes per game. Shoni has not played that
many minutes since early in the season. Angel played well under her norm, particularly
in Seattle where she did not make a shot from the field and had only two points on two
free throws. She has shown obvious frustration with the lack of calls she gets when she
is fouled in the act of shooting.
Shoni Schimmel played consistently well in all three games. Her points were 13,14 and
12, her rebounds were 4, 4 and 3, and her assists were 5,6 and 4. Her shot selection
was pretty good and her percentages were decent but not great. Shoni ran the point
most of the time, and her passing was great if not spectacular. Shoni also played good
defense most of the time on this trip.
The most spectacular play by Shoni of the three game stretch occurred in the fourth
quarter of a close game with Phoenix. Shoni and fellow rookie Nadia Colhado were
guarding Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner respectively. The Phoenix duo set up a pick
and roll play where they expected to take these two rookies to school. As Griner rolled
to the basket, Taurasi passed the ball to Griner. But both Shoni and Nadia got their
hands on the pass and deflected it to Tiffany Hayes under the basket. Shoni took off
down court and Tiffany Hayes dribbled the ball once and then threw a high pass to
Shoni who was around the midcourt line as the pass sailed over her head toward SW
corner of the arena. Few thought Shoni could run down that ball before it went out of
bounds, but she not only turned on the jets to catch up with the ball, she managed to be
able to stop long enough to turn to the basket and get up a shot up just as she was
about to go out of bounds. The shot got only net, and that three pointer took the lead
back for the Dream at 54-52.
Here is what the Phoenix TV play by play broadcaster said about Shoniʼs play: “Long
pass. Letʼs see if Schimmel can run it down. She does, fires and drills it! That was
ridiculuos! She did not even look at the basket. I think you have to love that shot just
running it down.”
Then Candance Dupree hits a nice layup and the announcer says, “Dupree hits a
layup.” And then he goes back to talking about the Schimmel play: “Shoni Schimmel. I
am not even sure she had the speed to catch up with that ball in the corner, much less
grab it and fire in a three. That as absurd, but fun to watch.”
Shoni followed up that play a few minutes later by poking the ball away from Taurasi
again. Hayes again picked up the deflection, but this time Hayes sent a perfect over the
shoulder pass to Shoni who was able to put the ball in the basket on a four foot jumper.
That shot brought the Dream to within four points at 71-67 with 1:07 to play.
The game at Seattle was a bad one for the Dream. Seatle came out fired up and the
Dream looked like they were in a sleep walk. It got ugly early. Seattle went up by more
than fifteen in the first quarter, and pushed that to well over twenty in the second
quarter. In a battle for a playoff spot, Seattle came out looking for blood in a game in
which they knew they would be playing at home in front of a somewhat hostile crowd
that would be rooting for a player on the other team.
As was mentioned in a couple of post game interviews, the Storm was determined to
crush this visiting team and its hotshot player for whom the fans would be cheering.
This attitude intensified as they listened to the crowd roar its enthusiasm for Shoni when
she game out for warmups. It continued to increase as the crowd cheered loudly every
time Shoni made a shot in “warmups.” As the Seattle announcers noted, they had not
seen any of the great stars of the WNBA get this kind of adulation or “rock star”
treatment at home, let alone on the road..
Shoni Schimmel fans outnumbered and out shouted the home town fans at both the
Atlanta Dreamʼs games in Phoenix and Seattle. At Phoenix, about 5,000-7000 fans out
of a crowd that exceeded 12,000 stayed after the game on a weeknight to have a post
game chat with Shoni Schimmel. As one observer noted that amounted to more fans
than the typical number of fans who attend many WNBA games. This turnout out for a
post game meeting with Schimmel exceeded the roughly 4,000 fans who met with her
after the Minnesota game a couple of weeks earlier.
All these reporters and media people keep saying that Shoniʼs fans are her Native
American following. Certainly the loudest and most devoted of her fans are mostly
Native American, but we saw a lot of fans at the Phoenix game who love Shoniʼs game
who are not Native American and who are not Atlanta Dream or Louisville fans.
We sat in a court side section of 10 chairs just to the left of the Phoenix basket and
team seating. Among those ten (not a scientific sample but still representative of
something), there were 6 Shoni fans, including three NA girls of college age wearing
Schimmel jerseys. There were also four avid Phoenix Mercury fans, two of whom were
wearing Diana Taurasi jerseys. The two older Mercury fans commented to us on how
much they loved to watch Shoni Schimmel play.
I did not visit with the younger couple wearing Taurasi jerseys, but I did find it interesting
that every time I watched the guy taking video before and during the game, he was zoomed
in on Shoni.
While none of these Mercury fans applauded other Dream baskets, they all applauded
when Shoni ran down that ball going out of bounds, stopped on a dime, and shot the ball in
one motion for a 3 pointer. That was pure Rez Ball instincts. No one coached her to do that.
The Phoenix fan base may not be representative of the whole WNBA , but I got the
feeling from talking with Mercury fans and others in the crowd that they think Shoni is
going to become one of the all-time greats of womenʼs basketball, and that she will
change the way the game is played.
We had VIP court side seats with access to free
food and drinks. So we were able to talk with a lot of avid fans of the Phoenix Mercury
and womenʼs basketball in general.
Shoni Schimmel fans probably bought 10,000 tickets for the games at Seattle and
Phoenix. Her presence probably sold another thousand plus for the game with the Los
Angeles Sparks. When you add the ticket prices to the concessions, parking and
merchandise purchases, Shoni fans probably added more than half a million dollars of
extra revenue to the WNBA and its franchises from just these three three games alone.
And it is possible that figure is closer to a million.
Shoniʼs jersey has already been announced as the top selling jersey in the WNBA. No
figures were released as to how far it exceeds the sales of Skylar Diggins jersey that is
in second place. The Dream has reported that activity on its web and social media sites
have skyrocketed since they drafted Ms. Schimmel, and her addition to the team has
propelled the Dream to the top spot in the WNBA in merchandise sales. Players who
resent the attention and adulation this rookie is getting should think twice about that
when they discover how her presence is increasing revenue, and that increase in
revenue should eventually increase salaries in the WNBA.
The Seattle announcers said the team ordered 400 Schimmel Showtime jerseys for the
game, and those sold out in less than 15 minutes. Seattle had their play by play
person, Dick Fain, interview Shoni after the game in front of the crowd. When Shoni
came out for the interview, she got a loud ovation that lasted over a minute before the
interview could get started.
I will have some more comments about the dynamics of these unprecedented crowds in
another essay later this coming week. I am also planning to write an essay on the
nature and characteristics of Rez Ball.
Ms. Schimmel is handling all this attention and pressure extremely well. She continues
to play the game with the Rez Ball joy and enthusiasm she has always exhibited. In the
process, she has become more mature and more media savvy. I think her experience and
training playing at the University of Louisville with Jeff Walz, and her exposure to
the media during that time, have given her a solid foundation for handling media
attention with maturity and savvy.
Her education at the University of Louisville with a
degree in communications probably has also helped prepare her to deal with the media
attention she is getting. While she has tens of thousands of adoring fans (and that
number may be rapidly approaching a hundred thousand fans), there are also a lot of
people, competitors and media out there just waiting to pounce on her first misstep.
You have to admire the way she has carried herself under all the media scrutiny and
under the pressure to live up to the hopes and expectations of her adoring fans.
USA FIBA U 18 advances to the finals of the FIBA Americas today by downing Argentina
97-51. Aja Wilson (23 points) led a charge that got USA up 11-0 to start the game.
It was 30-8 at the end of the first half and 56-16 at half time. Argentina did outscore
Dawn Staley's ballers 23-20 in the third quarter...but the lead was still 76-39 for the
Louisville's Mariya Moore with a limited role in the semifinal win....seeing only nine minutes
of playing time and hitting her only shot attempt to finish with 2 points.
The USA gets Canada in the finals this evening. The Canadian squad advanced by defeated
Brazil 67-60. USA handled Canada earlier in pool play 107-76.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on fibamaericas.com