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Fairbanks’ Ruthy Hebard prepares for sophomore season in the WNBA with guidance from an all-time great

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 9:49 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Ruthy Hebard and the 2020 WNBA Draft Class’ first year in the league was unlike any others before them from the moment they were selected. There was not a traditional WNBA Draft at the Nike New York Headquarters, but rather held virtually. There was not a full slate of games, as the season was trimmed from 34 to 22 contests. There was no travel, as each of the 12 teams competed at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida in the WNBA Bubble, or, ‘Wubble’.

Now heading into year two, Hebard will get the full experience of life in the WNBA with the Chicago Sky, from being familiarized with her home court, to traveling to opposing stadiums.

“The other day they were surprised because I have never been to Windtrust [Arena],” Hebard said at Media Day of the Sky’s home court after spending her rookie campaign in Florida. “Just trying to feel out the way around Chicago, but it is nice be here. It is fun to be able to have the gym whenever you want, be able to workout before or after practice, that kind of stuff is really nice. The freedom we have this year is going to make us even better just being able to get away and come back.”

Helping make this adjustment is future Hall of Famer Candace Parker, an off-season acquisition for the Sky. The Pride of Fairbanks and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year have only spent a few days together as teammates and Hebard is already picking up all she can from the former WNBA Champion.

“Just being able to watch her in practice and in preseason games, seeing her intensity and how focused she is is something that I love to watch,” Hebard said of Parker. “I want to incorporate [the way she] talks on defense and kind of being the coach in some ways is something that I want to get better; talking and being a presence even if the ball isn’t in my hands.”

Parker’s professional resume runs deep, as the 2016 Finals MVP, 5x All-Star, 2x League MVP and is a 9x All-WNBA selection. The two Chicago-born athletes squared-off twice during the 2020 season, both stand 6-foot 4 and play similar positions. With 13 years of WNBA experience, the addition of Parker comes at a prime window of development for Hebard.

“I think it just as been positive interaction in practice and I think it is just continuing to learn each other and continuing to grow,” Parker said of her and Hebard’s dynamic. “Obviously I know her game, she knows my game. I mean, I didn’t realize she is tough to move. She just always has a knack of being in the right spot, set the screen, roll to the basket...so I think a lot of our conversations haven’t been on the offensive end - because she’s got that - I think our conversations have been more defensively and us just trying to understand what we are trying to do.”

Adding another level of comfort to Hebard’s second year in the league comes from her experience playing for the KBSL’s Nesibe Aydin during the WNBA offseason. Hebard led the Turkish club in points (18.8ppg) and rebounds (11.0rpg), while taking them to the KBSL Playoff Semifinals.

“I think my confidence level kind of boosted seeing how well I did overseas and then coming back to such a great group of vets and even new players, it is just going to be so exciting,” Hebard added. “I am really excited to contribute what I can to this team and also just learn from some of the best players in the league this year.”

Hebard, Parker and the Chicago Sky tip-off their 2021 season on national television Saturday 9 a.m. AKDT against the Washington Mystics on ABC.

The WNBA is celebrating 25 years, predating Hebard herself.

“It is really special to be a part of the WNBA,” the former West Valley High School standout said. “Seeing girls like Nneka [Ogwumike] and Sue [Bird], who are leaders off the court is really inspiring as well. Seeing you can be a great basketball player, but also make a change and have a voice in today’s society, which is what we need, especially for women.”

Hebard appeared in every game for the Sky her rookie season, averaging 5.7 points per game and 3.9 rebounds across 14.5 minutes at an impressive 68.2% from the field. In a General Manager survey across WNBA teams, Hebard was tied for fourth most votes in response to the question ‘Which player is the best finisher at the rim?’, receiving the same percentage as WNBA All-Stars A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Breanna Stewart.

Hebard will make her Chicago debut May 23 when the Sky host her former teammate at Oregon University - Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty.

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