Sky select Shyla Heal with eighth overall pick in WNBA Draft

Heal, a 5-6 guard from Australia, is one of the youngest players in the draft class, but she has been playing professional basketball since she was 14.

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The Sky drafted Shyla Heal in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

The Sky drafted Shyla Heal in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Moments before Shyla Heal heard WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announce her name as the eighth overall pick selected by the Sky in the WNBA Draft, her dad, Shane, pulled her to the side of her draft day party to share some words.

“He came up to me and just said, ‘I am so proud of you,’ ” Heal said. “We’ve been working out together every day since I was a little girl. It’s a really special moment for us both.”

The Dallas Wings selected Charli Collier with the No. 1 overall pick to the surprise of no one. She was the heavy favorite to go first with a WNBA-ready frame.

The Sky’s pick, though, left many people surprised as most mock drafts predicted Heal going in the second round. The 19-year-old point guard is someone Wade has been watching for a long time.

The two had a few conversations before the draft, and Heal said Chicago was where she wanted to be.

Wade said Heal was a steal at No. 8.

“She didn’t have the eyes on her like the [players in the] NCAA Tournament,” Wade said. “But she did a lot of damage playing in Australia.”

Heal, a 5-6 guard from Australia, is one of the youngest players in the draft class but plays like a veteran. Wade credits it to the fact she has been playing professional basketball since she was 14.

The Sky’s new guard had an impressive WNBL season last year with the Townsville Fire, leading the team to the final against Liz Cambage’s Southside Flyers. She was named WNBL Youth Player of the Year in 2020 with averages of 25.3 points and 7.3 assists. Her assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.3, in line with top point guards in this draft class, Aari McDonald and Dana Evans.

“She’s a professional,” Wade said. “She acts like a 25-year-old or 26-year-old. Normally, players in the league come in and don’t get it right away. They have to see. She’s been doing it since she was 14.”

She can space the floor, is great at pick-and-roll and can match the Sky’s fast-paced style of play. She shot 31% from three-point range last season, but most impressive, Wade said, is her basketball IQ.

She’s coming into an ideal situation with Courtney Vandersloot as her mentor. Because of their similar styles of play, Wade believes she was the best player in the draft to learn from Vandersloot.

Ultimately, Heal will be tasked with running the Sky’s second unit and will need to maintain Vandersloot’s productivity. The Sky’s offensive rating was 110.6 with Vandersloot on the court last season, but it fell to 81.6 with her on the bench.

Heal’s father played stints with the Timberwolves and Spurs, but he’s better known for his decorated career with the Australian national team and the NBL. He famously went head-to-head with Charles Barkley during warmups at the Olympic games in 1996.

Heal carries that same toughness her father played with.

“If you watch her games in Australia, she plays with a chip on her shoulder,” Wade said.

The Sky are coming off a disappointing 2020 season that ended with a first-round loss to the Sun. This offseason, Wade stressed the importance of improving on defense. They got a boost when they signed reigning defensive player of the year Candace Parker.

With one season separating several players on the roster from becoming unrestricted free agents, the Sky need to capitalize with the players they have now in pursuit of the franchise’s first WNBA championship. Heal can help them do that.

“I really can’t wait to learn from Vandersloot and keep getting better,” Heal said.

The Sky selected forward Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State with the 16th overall pick.

Northwestern guard Lindsey Pulliam was taken 27th overall by the Dream.

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