Shalin and Taber Spani, two of the top female basketball players in Eastern Jackson County’s recent history, spent some time Thursday night with a rapt group of young girls who sat spellbound as the sisters talked about the four most important things in their lives – faith, family, academics and basketball.

Shalin and Taber Spani, two of the top female basketball players in Eastern Jackson County’s recent history, spent some time Thursday night with a rapt group of young girls who sat spellbound as the sisters talked about the four most important things in their lives – faith, family, academics and basketball.
“Those young ladies do everything with passion,” said Missouri Valley Basketball director of operations and Truman High School graduate Doug Murdock, who helped organize the “BOOST-HER LIFE SKILLS” session with the Spani sisters at the Sports Activities Center in Independence.
“They talk from their heart, and as you could see, the younger kids listened. When I found out Shalin and Taber were going to speak to our kids, I was like a little kid at Chrismas time.”
Shalin is a junior at Kansas State University and Taber, an All-American standout from Metro Academy (a home-school team coached by the Spani’s parents, Stacey and former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Gary) will be a freshman this fall at perennial national power Tennessee.
Taber, who lived in Blue Springs South High School’s district, will soon find out if she made the final cut of the USA basketball team that will play European opponents later this summer in Thailand. The team now has 14 players, with the final roster featuring the top 12 players in the country.
“Taber is as good a player as I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot of good players,” Murdock said. “But as good as she is at basketball, she and her sister are even better human beings.
“Just listen to what they have to say tonight, and I know you’ll agree.”
After signing autographs and posing for photos, the Spani sisters gave a rousing talk to girls who make up the 20 teams (ages 9 to 17) in the Missouri Valley program.
“Our life centers around our faith, our family, academics and then basketball,” said Taber, who leaves for Tennessee this morning. “That might surprise some of you – because we’re good basketball players, you might think basketball would be higher on the list.”
Shalin quickly adds, “But life is all about choices. And everything you do in life is a choice.”
Shalin talked about the four knee surgeries she has had, and how they have impacted her life both on and off the basketball court.
“After my first surgery, from 4 to 7 p.m. for nine months I rehabbed my knee,” she said. “It was a choice I made, because I wanted to come back and play basketball.”
Murdock told a quick story about the time he coached a young Shalin, who was an eighth grader at the time.
“We were playing up (in age), and playing a high school team, and getting beat by 10 or 12 points with six seconds left in the game,” Murdock said. “There was a loose ball and she dove after it and really skinned up her knees. My assistant coach looked over at me and asked, ‘Does she know the score, or the time left in the game?’
“I asked her about it, and she said, ‘I play hard until they blow the horn to end the game.’ Wow, see what I mean about passion?”
The two girls talked about their spirited one-on-one basketball games in the driveway.
“I hate to lose,” Taber said. “I love to win more than I hate to lose, but I absolutely despise losing. When she was 10, I was playing Shalin and she was up by a couple of points.”
Shalin said, “You always have to win by two points, and Taber stole the ball. She was always stealing the ball.”
Taber giggled at the memory.
“I dove for the ball, and she just sat on my head. And she kept sitting on it. I was bleeding and she just sat there bleeding, and she finally said, ‘Get up, it’s time to go to practice.’ So I got up and went to practice.”
That was a favorite story for the appreciative crowd.
“They are such great role models for girls of any age,” said Darci Kern, who will be a freshman at Truman. “They talked about choices and making the right choices and I think all of us will try to do that.”