Shyla Heal is ready to prove what she lacks in age she makes up for in professional experience
Heal’s time in the WNBL includes being named Youth Player of the Year and leading the Townsville Fire to the finals.
Shyla Heal isn’t your average rookie.
She’s young, yes. At 19, she was one of the youngest players selected in the 2021 WNBA Draft. But her experience has her playing well beyond her years.
That experience comes from a lifetime of training with her dad, Shane, who had a storied basketball career of his own, and a professional basketball career that began before she was old enough to drive.
‘‘My dad coached the Southeast Queensland Stars,’’ Heal said. ‘‘Erin Phillips got injured, and we were really short on guards. I was going to be a developmental player that season, but I stepped in as the 10th man and played about 14 games when I was 14.’’
Heal casually noted that becoming the Stars’ 10th woman at 14 made her the youngest player to play in the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia.
Heal moved a lot growing up, but a constant for her was playing basketball and training with her dad. They worked on her game every day. Heal learned two lessons from her dad that have had the most substantial impact on her game: always outwork your competitors and never back down.
Her dad played for the Australian national team in the NBL and had a couple of stints in the NBA with the Timberwolves and Spurs. He’s known to many U.S. fans for his infamous on-court feud with ‘‘Dream Team’’ star Charles Barkley during warmups at the Summer Olympics in 1996.
When Heal was selected with the eighth overall pick Thursday by the Sky, following in the footsteps of Liz Cambage and Lauren Jackson as Australian women selected in the top 10 of the WNBA Draft, Barkley had a message for his old foe.
‘‘Shane Heal, I want to congratulate you on your daughter,’’ Barkley said on ‘‘Inside the NBA’’ on TNT. ‘‘But you are so lucky I didn’t kill your ass over at the Olympics.’’
Heal plays with the same grit and toughness her dad did. It’s one of the qualities that attracted Sky general manager and coach James Wade to the 5-6 point guard. That and her basketball IQ, among a list of other qualities.
Heal’s time in the WNBL includes being named Youth Player of the Year and leading the Townsville Fire to the finals against Cambage’s Southside Flyers. Last season, she averaged 25.3 points and 7.3 assists and shot 31% from three-point range and 85.5% from the free-throw line. She also dropped 30 points on the Flyers in the semifinals.
Cambage, Jackson and Penny Taylor are a few Australian players whose careers in the WNBA have inspired Heal along the way. Before the draft, she was able to speak to Cambage and Jackson a couple of times.
Jackson pulled her aside during the WNBL season and told Heal she loved the fearless way she plays the game, and Cambage told her she was the future of Australian basketball.
Heal is joining a championship-caliber roster, but she doesn’t feel pressure from that. She’s confident in her ability to create for her teammates and command the second unit. What she’s most looking forward to is improving her game under the tutelage of Sky starter Courtney Vandersloot.
‘‘The fact we have another thinking point guard [in Vandersloot] that can show her the way and matches her style will allow her to learn a lot,’’ Wade said.
Heal will be arriving in Chicago sometime in the next week. It will be her first time in the United States since she was a young girl, which she said she doesn’t remember much.
For someone who has spent most of her life away from home, chasing her dream of playing in the WNBA, this move across the world is nothing but a dream come true.
‘‘This is going to be a brand-new experience,’’ Heal said. ‘‘I knew coach Wade was trying to build a championship team, and I believe in it.’’