Shalin and Taber Spani did the impossible Thursday night.

Shalin and Taber Spani did the impossible Thursday night.
They held the attention of more than 100 young basketball players for nearly an hour at the Sports Activities Center in Independence, and not once did they pick up a basketball or diagram a play.
The daughters of Stacey and Gary Spani talked about life lessons and making the right choices as part of Missouri Valley Basketball’s “BOOST-HER LIFE SKILLS” program.
While Shalin, a junior guard at Kansas State, and Taber, a freshman-to-be at national powerhouse Tennessee, talked about the four most important aspects of their lives – faith, family, academics and sports – it was so quiet you could have heard an ant crawling across the gym floor.
“They were so inspiring,” said Ashley Mann, a junior at Grain Valley High School. “I always wanted to be able to talk to someone like Shalin and Taber. And they were so nice.”
Added Grain Valley freshman Cory Henson: “I listen to them, and I get so motivated I just want to go out and practice. I play basketball all year, and I want to be just like them.”
Truman freshman Darci Kern called the sisters “perfect role models for any aged basketball player.”
I couldn’t agree more with the girls in attendance, or veteran AAU coach Doug Murdock, who simply said, “They are the real deal – two of the most genuine young ladies you could ever find.
“It’s special to be around them. Taber is leaving for Tennessee (Friday) morning. She didn’t have to come out here and do this the night before she left town, but I think she and her sister were more excited than the girls who were in the audience.”
I never saw Shalin play basketball, but witnessed Taber’s brilliance this year in the Blue Springs-Blue Springs South McDonald’s Basketball Tournament. She was a one-woman show, nearly reaching a triple-double in a loss to eventual state runner-up Blue Springs.
Over the past 27 years at The Examiner, I’ve seen some great basketball players – Fort Osage’s Betty Lennox and Lee’s Summit North’s Claire Coggins, who both went on to play in the WNBA; Blue Springs South’s Nikki Knapp, William Chrisman’s Lashena Graham and the list goes on and on.
But none of them could dominate a game like Taber, who played on a team coached by her parents, including her father, former Kansas City Chiefs great Gary Spani. Metro Academy was made up of home-schooled students, and it was nothing for Taber to fight through double- and triple-teaming to score 30 points, grab 15 rebounds and dish off five to 10 assists.
“She’s amazing,” Murdock said. “Why do you think she’s going to Tennessee?”
She might also be a part of Team USA this summer. The team has been whittled down to 14 girls, with final roster featuring the top 12 players in the nation. Team USA will travel to Thailand later this summer to play the top European squads in a competition that excites both Spani girls.
“It would be amazing to represent the United States and play the best teams in the world,” Taber said.
Shalin was quick to add, “She’s going to make it.”
While their basketball skills are legendary on the AAU circuit, their presence in the gym Thursday night left me with a tinge of sadness.
I could only imagine what the past few years would have been like had they played for Blue Springs South. The Spanis live in Lakewood, which is part of the Jaguars’ district. But the girls were home schooled, so I never had the opportunity to watch them play on a regular basis or get to know what amazing role models they were for girls and women.
“They’re great athletes,” Murdock said, “but even better individuals.”
And their talk struck home with the youngsters, ages 9 to 17, who sat on the gym floor, listening to every motivational word the Spanis uttered.
Shalin talked about desire and focus at the beginning of the presentation. About halfway through their talk, she asked, “What are two of the most important things you must have to be a success?”
A number of hands shot up in the air. She looked at one of the younger campers who said, “Desire and focus.”
Shalin and Taber looked at each other and grinned. They were making an impact.
Murdock told a story about the time he coached Shalin on an eighth grade team that was playing up against a high school team.
Murdock’s squad was down by 12 with six seconds left in the game. The ball squirted loose from an opposing player and Shalin dove across the court to retrieve it.
She left most of the skin from the front of both legs on the court, but she got the ball.
“We were down by 12 – with six seconds to play – and I asked her why she did that,” Murdock said, shaking his head in amazement, “and she told me that she played until the horn blew to end the game.”
When the horn blew Thursday night, Shalin’s knees were fine. But she and her sister had made the same impact on a group of young ladies, and a veteran sports writer, who realized the impact two honest-to-goodness role models can have in this day and age of athletes who believe their personal success outweighs the importance of team play and desire.