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West Valley's Ruthy Hebard in action against Lathrop's Abigail Steffen, left, and Makenzie Warner, right, during the Mid Alaska Conference girls basketball match-up between the Wolfpack and the Malemutes Tuesday evening, March 1, 2016 at Lathrop High School. Eric Engman/News-Miner

Fairbanks basketball star Ruthy Hebard just completed her first WNBA season and is now playing in Europe for the season. We will be talking with her about her experiences weekly. If you have any questions or comments for Ruthy, please send them to jstricker@newsminer.com and we’ll forward them. 

In just a few weeks in Turkey, Ruthy Hebard has poured on the offensive heat for Nesibe Aydin, notching a phenomenal double-double on Tuesday as she led her team to victory over Kayseri with 24 points and 23 rebounds. Ten of those 23 rebounds were on the offensive end. 

So far, Nesibe is riding high, with a 5-1 record. Its only loss came against Fenerbahce, a team in Istanbul whose roster features Hebard’s former Oregon Ducks teammate Satou Sabally, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead Fenerbahce over Nesibe. Hebard had 23 points and 10 rebounds in that matchup.

Hebard said it was fun to play against Sabally, who plays for the Dallas Wings in the WNBA, although Nesibe had to travel to Istanbul from Ankara by bus, a more than six-hour trip. 

“Even though the bus ride was long, it was great to be able to see the countryside and more parts of Turkey,” Hebard said via email.

Hebard has come a long way from the gym at West Valley High School. She is one of the top performers in her league and was named MVP of the week earlier this month after scoring 28 points in a game against Mersin.

Hebard was reminded of her earliest days on the court when Darryl Lewis, a University of Alaska Fairbanks basketball player in the 1980s and longtime Fairbanks broadcaster, sent her this note via the News-Miner: “Hey Ruthy ... I heard there was a TV news guy that used to yell at you during your early high school basketball career ... and got so fed up with you playing below your tremendous talent that he came to your practice, was given access inside and drove you crazy ... and to tears ... during drills. You remember that guy?  Very, VERY proud of you My Big Girl.....love you always!!”

Hebard said she remembers that well. 

“Yes, he made me cry and hate my life for a little that day,” she wrote in an email. “But looking back now, I am thankful for that. I was cheating myself and he saw that. Ever since then I have pushed myself to get better. Even on days when I could cruise, I push myself. He taught me to always stay hungry, always fight and not take no crap from anyone. He has been by my side and in my ear ever since that day my freshman year.”

Hebard said she remembers while she was in college, the Oregon Ducks played a game in Colorado, where Lewis relocated after he left Fairbanks.

“I heard him yelling at me and it felt unreal,” she wrote. “I was like, ‘I know this voice, but why am I hearing it now,’ and looking around, I saw him and I think I immediately stood a little taller and couldn’t contain my smile. He is amazing and I am so blessed to have a real one like him by my side.”

And in her email to the News-Miner, she relayed a thankful shoutout to Lewis: “I LOVE AND MISS YOU!!”

Hebard added that she hopes COVID goes away soon so Lewis and other Alaska family and friends can  watch games in person.

In the meantime, Hebard’s focus is on basketball. She said her routine in Ankara isn’t much different from the WNBA bubble. 

“We practice every day, then some days we lift,” she said. “As the season goes on, I am going to have to make my own schedule so I can get to the weight room more often here in Turkey. Overseas, I think it is solely up to you to take care of your body. So every day I am learning more about my body: food it likes, stretches, weight-lifting and stuff like that. So it’s fun.”

Hebard said she and teammate Shey Peddy have found some good food spots in their neighborhood, although she notes there’s a Subway and a Starbucks right next to their gym. 

“I am always down to try new things,” she said. “So far I have all the food and candy I need, so I am very happy about that part. I have WIFI so I can watch my Netflix and Hulu and all that fun stuff.”

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