From Alaska to Oregon, Sky draft pick Hebard comes back to Chicago
Technically, it will be a full-circle moment for Ruthy Hebard.
When the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are lifted and Hebard comes to Chicago as the Sky's top draft pick from last week's WNBA draft, she'll be returning to her birthplace.
Not that she remembers it.
Hebard was a few days old when she was adopted by a Fairbanks, Alaska, couple.
"It was fun to grow up in Alaska," she said. "We went to our cabin a lot, we did a lot of jet skiing, boating and snow machining. We spent a lot of time in ice rinks because both of my brothers played hockey.
"It was a unique childhood."
Hebard's family is unique, too. Her two brothers aren't her biological brothers. They were also adopted.
Hebard and her brothers are black; their parents white.
"I really never noticed a difference until people started pointing it out to me when I was in like middle school," Hebard said of her mixed family. "There were some times when we would walk into a restaurant as a family and they would try to seat us in different places. That was funny, but it was fine. I'm just proud to be in my family."
Hebard's family certainly is proud of her.
She has become one of the most accomplished athletes in the state of Alaska, and is already a member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
The 6-foot-4 Hebard, a star for an Oregon team that became one of the best college basketball programs in the country during her career, has tallied more career points (2,368), rebounds (1,299) and blocked shots (146) than any other NCAA Division I player from her home state.
Starting in 141 out of 144 games for the Oregon Ducks, Hebard averaged 16.4 points, 9 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1 block in 28.7 minutes per game across four seasons.
She is also the Pac-12's all-time leader in career field-goal percentage, at 65.1 percent.
"We couldn't be happier to be able to add Ruthy to the group that we already have," Sky general manager and head coach James Wade said. "She's an awfully good player, who is efficient and extremely disciplined. She will bring a great energy to our already energetic and dynamic environment. We can't wait to get her together with her new teammates."
Hebard was fortunate to have some really good old teammates, too.
She was on the receiving end of many of the assists that made teammate Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in last week's WNBA draft, one of the best point guards in the history of women's college basketball.
"Sabrina and I were roommates freshman year and she was so funny and fun, but she was also super competitive every day. She played so hard and she was confident from Day One," Hebard said. "I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to mirror that. I could tell that she was something special. She knew what I could be, helped me to do that and motivated me."
Hebard arrived at Oregon with height and length, but she was skinny and weak. She says she worked tirelessly in the weight room so she could be solid and strong in the post.
"I just get good position, and I got really good at reading my defender, knowing which way to go and then finishing," Hebard said. "My coaches would work with me on not rushing once I caught the ball. They'd tell me to just wait a second, to see where the defender went, then make a move. That helped me a lot. I learned a lot about taking good shots."
Hebard's learning curve has been steep in recent years.
She knew about the WNBA and was thrilled when her parents planned a family trip to Los Angeles one summer.
On that trip, Hebard was struck by former Naperville Central star Candace Parker, and got her Sparks jersey. She went back to Alaska and did reports in school on WNBA players such as Lisa Leslie.
"It's crazy that I'm in the same league as Candace Parker now," an excited Hebard said. "I was so excited to be drafted. I was so happy. I feel like I'm just floating."
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