April 16, 2021
‘Just so happy’: Sky draft pick Shyla Heal is ready for her WNBA moment
James Wade sees Heal, 19, as ready to earn minutes behind Courtney Vandersloot
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Most 14-year-old Australians dream what most teens dream about: finishing year 9 in school, maybe going to proms, and landing part-time jobs.
Not so for Shyla Heal, the Chicago Sky’s 19-year-old, draft-busting eighth overall pick. When Coach James Wade said he was going to pick a point guard earlier this year, most predicted a more traditional college player, like Stanford’s Kiana Williams or Louisville’s Dana Evans. Instead, Heal joins WNBA legends Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage, and Alannah Smith in the Australia-to-WNBA pipeline.
Wade is confident that Heal can handle the pressure.
“She left home at 15 to play basketball,” Wade told media on a post-draft virtual press conference. “We treated her as a professional, and she passed the tests at every stage.”
At 14, the 5’6 Kogarah native was already a basketball professional — a developmental player for the South East Queensland Stars, of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL,) where she earned Youth Player of the Year and finished All-League Second Team. She was one of league’s top five scorers, averaging 25.3 points and 7.3 assists per game.
Last year, she averaged 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game for the Townsville Fire.
“Yeah, I can’t wait to get to Chicago,” Heal said. “I’ve been talking to them for a little bit now. It seems like such a good culture, and I know it’s going to be a great fit for me. I can’t wait to get over, learn from all the veterans and keep getting better but also contribute, as well.*
Heal may well become Courtney Vandersloot’s partner in crime at point guard, with Wade describing her as “a perfect understudy”. And she brings an aggression to her play that may be a game-changer for the Chicago Sky, who made it to the WNBA Finals in 2014.
“I think my game translates to the WNBA so well. I really focus on my ball-handling skills, creating space, step-backs, getting my shot off quick, ” she said. “(The) WNBA is sort of like one-on-one breaking it down, and that’s really how I like to play. So I feel like the style of play in the WNBA is really going to suit my game.”
Whatever her role as a rookie, Wade says he’s planning on giving her minutes. And she’s looking forward to learning from the 10-year veteran known as ‘Slootie.’
“She’s just such a smart player, and I just can’t wait to learn from her, pick her brain about being a point guard and obviously just getting better each day,” Heal said. “I can’t wait to get over there.”
The skill, poise and professionalism Heal displays at such a young age are likely as much a product of genetics and environment. Her father, Shane Heal, has had a storied basketball career of his own as a player and coach on three continents, including four Olympic Games for Australia, a championship stint in the NBL, in the NBA, for the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs, and in Europe, and coaching in Australia’s NBL. He was recently appointed Sydney University Flames coach. And he had a famous run-in with Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. His daughter’s entry into the WNBA prompted a comment from the ever-irascible Sir Charles. “He wanted to fight me! You almost didn’t have no daughter!” Barkley quipped to co-host Ernie Johnson on the NBA on TNT.
The elder Heal was with his daughter as her name was called.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Heal said of her father. “He’s trained me since I was a little girl, and we’ve done I don’t even know how many trainings, so many thousands, and yeah, he’s such a big influence in my life on and off the court, and I’m so grateful for him.”
The newest rookie will be traveling in style to her adoptive country. Wade said she will be flying by private jet. “My brother is a pilot, and he’ll be flying out to bring her over.”
Heal can’t wait.
“Look, it just feels so surreal right now. I actually have been picturing this moment, visualizing it since I was a little kid. Just so happy all my training has paid off.”