Next Chapter: Ruthy Hebard arrives in Turkey for new season
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -
The last seven months have been obscure for everyone, including for Fairbanks, Alaska basketball icon Ruthy Hebard.
In March, Hebard and the No. 2 nationally ranked Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team were eyeing the program’s first NCAA championship, before the tournament was shut down due to COVID-19 concerns. Hebard’s psyche shifted in a positive direction when she was selected 8th overall in April’s WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky, but there was still uncertainty surrounding the season. After arriving in the WNBA Bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Hebard appeared in all 23 games the Sky took the court.
“It has just been up and down," Hebard said of the last several months, "But I am just happy that my whole family is safe and I am still playing basketball and I am still making money. It is definitely going to go down in the history books as something different for everybody I think.”
Like many WNBA players, Hebard will take her talents overseas during the league’s offseason to continue working on her craft while receiving compensation. Hebard arrived in Ankara, Turkey in late September to play for Nesibe Aydin in the Women’s Basketball Super League, over 5,000 miles away from her hometown. Among the many uncertainties this year was Hebard’s ability to play in another country given the current climate.
“A bunch of teams didn’t have a lot of money, so I was like, ‘do I really want to go overseas? Is it worth it?’” Hebard said. “Turkey just seemed fun and they definitely paid me the most, but they’re really welcoming here. The coach is super nice and the girls are great.”
Hebard also had professional offers in Israel and Russia, but settled on her new Turkish team, where some familiar faces are nearby.
“Satou [Sabally, former teammate] is in Istanbul, there are a bunch of WNBA players here and even a few girls from Oregon Volleyball are here playing in Turkey too, so at least there will be some Americans around me that I know and like.”
One of those Americans is fellow WNBA player Shey Peddy of the Phoenix Mercury, who joins Hebard at Nesibe Aydin. Peddy and a few other Aydin teammates speak English, helping with Hebard’s transition to a new scene. Among the new accustoms for Hebard include the time zone difference, which is 11 hours from Alaska to Turkey.
“The first night I called my mom at midnight and woke her up by accident,” Hebard said with a laugh.
Different dishes are also on the menu for Hebard.
“They just brought out this whole honeycomb, straight off the tree it looked like. They love cheese here, there is so much cheese on the tables and they always have Turkish tea after [eating],” Hebard said. “I kind of wait for everyone else to start eating so I know what to put on what so I don’t look weird, but they’re really helpful and nice about it.”
COVID-19 precautions are still implemented in Ankara, Turkey, where there is a population of over 5.5 Million people. Masks, glass separations and temperature checks are common, while Hebard has been tested twice for COVID-19 since her arrival.
No outside attendees were allowed in the WNBA Bubble, or ‘Wubble’, but Hebard said her parents have flights booked to visit her in Turkey later this month.
Hebard’s first game with her new team is set for Saturday against Adana.
“I think I am just really excited to keep playing basketball and getting better and expanding my skills here," she said.
Hebard, the lone Alaskan in the WNBA, impressed in her first year of professional basketball. She started six games for the Sky, averaging 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 14.5 minutes. Highlights include a 22 point, 8 rebound, 2 block performance in the regular season finale, as well as a 12 point, 11 rebound outing against the Indiana Fever on August 31.
“Seeing the little things, how well I moved without the ball, how well my defense was, from my first game to my last game, just seeing myself less nervous and more comfortable,” Hebard said of her growth in her rookie season. “I started to look like I was meant for this team, not just some rookie they put in there, I looked like I played for this team before.”
While in the Wubble, there were a lot of games, but also a lot of down time. With all 12 WNBA teams present, there were opportunities for Hebard to run into her idols away from the court.
“Diana Taurasi came by and patted me on the back and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I love you.'”
Whether in Oregon, the Wubble, or Turkey, Hebard always feels the love from her home state.
"It is just so special to see. Even when I don’t play well, or play well, just having people be like, ‘I saw you on TV,' or 'oh we bought your shirt.’ or just having that little text message or Facebook message pop up, it just makes me happy, it means a lot.
“I am just hoping that wherever they are at in Alaska, they know they can do it,” Hebard said of the youth that looks up to her. “You might not be posted all over the internet, you might not be ranked top 100, but if you put your mind to it, you can work your way up.”
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