Ruthy Hebard had been dreaming, waiting for the WNBA draft — imagining what it would be like to walk the orange carpet at the Nike New York Headquarters, shake commissioner Cathy Engelbert’s hand on stage and then explore New York City with her former Oregon teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally.
But on Friday, Hebard, whom the Sky picked eighth overall, instead watched the draft from the living room of her family’s home in Fairbanks, Alaska, as the league was forced to hold the event virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking back, Hebard wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s great. I’m so happy,” she said. “I’d never thought I would be in Alaska for a draft.”
Shortly after the draft ended, there was a friendly parade through Fairbanks — with social distancing — with Hebard as the waving star. Neighbors and friends cheered from their parked cars as Hebard and her family drove through the streets.
“I know a lot of people are happy and excited,” said Hebard, the third Duck to be drafted in the first round after Ionescu and Sabally went first and second overall to the Liberty and Wings, respectively. “It’s nice being around close family and friends during this time.”
Hebard, who was born in Chicago and adopted by a family in Fairbanks when she was an infant, was one of the top players on Sky general manager James Wade’s draft board. He saw her as a steal at No. 8.
Coming off their third 20-win season in team history and their first playoff appearance since 2016, the Sky are in win-now mode, and Hebard is a player who can make an immediate impact on both ends of the court this upcoming season. She has been a steady force for the Ducks the last four years, shooting a Pac-12 all-time best 65.1 percent from the field. Last season, she averaged 17.3 points on a career-best 68.5 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds.
Hebard is also a menace in the paint and can pass out of double teams, which can help the Sky’s spacing and ability to attack the lane. She’s also a strong rebounder and a potential answer to the team’s deficiencies on defense.
“Any time you get the most efficient player in college basketball for the following three years, it’s a gift within itself,” said Wade, who also said Hebard’s game reminds him of that of Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, last year’s WNBA rookie of the year. “Pick-and-roll-wise, that’s when she’s at her best. So I think the way we play our game, we play a lot of pick-and-rolls . . . and she’s going to be a great target.”
Although there’s uncertainty about the upcoming season, Hebard plans to take advantage of this time off to grow her game and get herself physically and mentally prepared for her next step.
“[I’m going to] make sure whenever this [pandemic] all clears up, I’m ready to go and hopefully make an impact,” she said.
Wade, who also drafted former UCLA guard Japreece Dean at No. 30 and former Florida State forward Kiah Gillespie at No. 32, deemed the draft an overall success.
“I feel really good,” he said. “We got better. We addressed needs, and I think we got the best players available [at each spot].”
SKY 2020 DRAFT PICKS
F/C Ruthy Hebard
Round: 1 (8th pick overall)
2019-20 stats: Averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds in 33 games
G Japreece Dean
Round: 3 (30th pick overall)
2019-20 stats: Averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 27 games
F Kiah Gillespie
Round: 3 (32nd pick overall)
School: Florida State
2019-20 stats: Averaged 15.6 points and 8.7 rebounds in 32 games