WNBA in good hands with youth

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PHOENIX -- Shoni Schimmel was the WNBA All-Star Game MVP, and afterward she wanted everybody to be a part of the celebration. She posed for photos with her grandmother, great-grandmother, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, cousins, fans.

Oh, and one prominent "foe."

"Brittney, come here! My mom wants to take a picture with you!" Schimmel said to Phoenix's Brittney Griner, who, of course, obliged.

Griner's West Conference All-Stars lost a highly entertaining 125-124 overtime game to Schimmel's East squad Saturday at US Airways Center. But in reality, nobody lost.

This was a big win for the WNBA, the Mercury organization, women's basketball, the fans, and the players. In particular, it was a "take a bow" afternoon for the younger generation, such as Atlanta guard Schimmel, the rookie out of Louisville who scored a game-high 29 points and also had eight assists. And Tulsa guard Skylar Diggins, the second-year pro out of Notre Dame who led the West All-Stars with 27 points, plus had seven assists.

And also Griner, whose Mercury currently own the WNBA's best record at 18-3 and who had 17 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots Saturday to the delight of the 14,685 who watched the highest-scoring All-Star Game in the league's history.

Nothing can stay vibrant without an infusion of the "new" at regular intervals. The WNBA, a league in its 18th season, is still developing its niche in the sports world. Part of the growth comes from enticing fans who perhaps needed someone special to pique their interest.

Someone who makes them curious, or makes them intrigued, or makes them proud. Or all of those things. Just getting that first investment -- "OK, I'll watch this to see how she does" -- can lead to a longtime commitment.

With the younger WNBA All-Stars that were here -- and including Chicago's Elena Delle Donne, who was voted a starter but is dealing with a recurrence of Lyme Disease and didn't play -- the league has very talented players who brought a certain amount of personal popularity with them when they turned professional.

Schimmel, along with her sister and former Louisville teammate, Jude, has been an inspiration to Native Americans all over the country. Wherever Shoni is playing, there are always those who come to watch because of the powerful loyalty and pride she inspires in them. She makes their spirits soar, and she can feel their hopes riding along with her.

"In Indian country, she is changing lives," her mother, Ceci, said in the swirl of ecstatic family members surrounding Shoni after the game. "They look up to her. We've gotten letters from girls who say they are inspired to do things because of her."

Schimmel is just the third player in league history to be voted an All-Star starter despite not regularly starting games for the Atlanta Dream. She's a rookie who is still learning what's needed on the defensive end for a veteran team with standouts such as Angel McCoughtry and Erika de Souza, who were both All-Stars.

But in the All-Star Game, where defense doesn't usually make an appearance until late in the fourth quarter, offense is the show. And that is Shimmel's place to shine.

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