During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, Ruthy Hebard was on a family vacation to Los Angeles when her parents took her to a Sparks game.
She was already enamored of basketball. She had been playing since second grade and would routinely go to school early for pickup games with her friends on the blacktop.
But the Sparks game made her realize she could make a career out of this.
“Ever since then, I tried to watch as much as I could,” said Hebard, whom the Sky drafted with their 2020 first-round pick last week. “It was just super fun to be able to go and watch those girls play, and that ended up being what [made me realize] I wanted to be in the WNBA one day.”
Hebard — who was born in Chicago but adopted by a couple from Fairbanks, Alaska, where she grew up — spent her time watching highlights of players such as Candace Parker on YouTube and scouring the internet for stats. She also wrote several school essays on the WNBA and its players.
“They didn’t know [about the WNBA], and I was like, ‘Look at all these girls who look like me who are playing professional basketball, making money,’ ” Hebard said. “They also did stuff with fundraising and all these other things that were so cool to me.”
To be a part of the draft — albeit remotely — and hear her name called as the eighth overall pick was a dream come true. But now Hebard, one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball over the last three years at Oregon, is ready to show she belongs.
“I know Courtney [Vandersloot] is a great player, and she was also coached by coach [Kelly] Graves and is awesome at the pick-and-roll,” Hebard said. “So I’m just excited to get there, learn from her and hopefully help the team in whatever way I can.”
Get to know more about Hebard in this week’s Chat Room.
Who are you most looking forward to facing in the league?
Ruthy Hebard: “I’m really excited to play . . . like, Nneka Ogwumike and just a lot of those great post players who I’ve watched over the years — Sylvia Fowles, those type of girls.”
The WNBA season is in flux because of the coronavirus pandemic, but when and if it starts, what games are you looking forward to most?
RH: “I can’t wait to play [former Oregon teammate] Sabrina [Ionescu]! . . . I’m just excited to be able to see her and catch up with her and just play against her. I always felt like I played with her, so seeing her on the opposite side is going to be really fun and different.”
The Associated Press released its all-time top 25 sports flicks last week. What movies are in your top five?
RH: “Definitely ‘Love & Basketball.’ That’s the one I loved watching as a kid because it’s kind of cute. I also like ‘Space Jam,’ of course. ‘Juwanna Mann’ — that was a funny movie. I liked that. ‘The Sixth Man’ was also one of my favorites, and probably ‘Like Mike.’ ”
I heard you’re a huge Blackhawks fan. What drew you to the Hawks?
RH: “Just growing up watching hockey a lot and my brother knowing a lot about the NHL. And I just like Chicago because that’s where I was born and Alaska doesn’t have an NHL team, so I was like, ‘You know, I’ll just root for Chicago and their team,’ and hopefully I can go to a game. That’s one of my dreams is to go to an NHL game.”
A lot of people want to know what it’s like to grow up in Alaska. Are any of the stereotypes true?
RH: “There’s definitely dog sleds . . . but it’s not a normal thing. We have cars, we have all the normal stuff. There’s not igloos around. There are moose that walk through the neighborhood, but, yeah, we’re still up to date with technology and stuff like that. One girl was like, ‘Do you have iPhones?’ Another person asked me if we had oranges and those kinds of fruit and I was like, ‘Yes, we do.’ But it’s always fun to tease people sometimes. I would say stuff like, ‘Me and my friends would just go out, go hunting and bring home dinner and cook it over our fire,’ and stuff like that.”
What does it mean for you to play in your birth city?
RH: “I’m not sure if I want to explore it yet, but I am super excited to go full circle and just explore where I was born . . . and see the differences of Alaska and Chicago.”