The News-Miner is checking in regularly with former West Valley High School and Oregon Ducks basketball standout Ruthy Hebard, who is spending her rookie year in the WNBA “wubble” in Florida with the Chicago Sky.

Ruthy Hebard is halfway through her first season in the WNBA with the Chicago Sky and is hitting her stride and wearing the biggest smile in the league.

The Chicago Sky were 10-4 as of Saturday afternoon, still on top of the Eastern Conference.

Her role on the floor has been expanding and she played 23 minutes on Thursday, scoring 11 points in a game against the New York Liberty — the team that picked Hebard’s Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu No. 1 in the draft. Ionescu suffered an ankle injury in her third game and has been sidelined, so Hebard missed the opportunity to play against her friend.

Hebard is averaging 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, although she averages only about 11.7 minutes per game. Her 61.9% shooting percentage is top among WNBA rookies, according to Erik Skopil of 247sports.com.

On and off the court, Hebard is settling in, making friends and making the most of life in the WNBA wubble. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 12-team WNBA elected to play an abbreviated schedule. The teams are sequestered at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the players live and practice. Games are played at an arena a half-hour drive away.

“We won the last three, so coach is pretty happy,” she said. “It’s the second half of our season now, it’s been going by fast.”

Hebard has high praise for Chicago Coach James Wade.

Earlier in the week, the Sky were having a hard time against the Las Vegas Aces, the No. 2 team in the WNBA. The Sky (ranked No. 5 overall) had blown a huge lead and with time running out was tied with the Aces. Wade called a time out and came up with a play, actually a series of decoys, that got Azura Stevens out in the open and up to the basket for the winning layup, 84-82. CBS Sports called it “the play of the year.”

“He’s just an amazing coach, obviously and he’s super smart,” Hebard said. “He’ll make plays like that: It’s crazy to watch him come up with plays. He knows what our strong suits are and things like that help us succeed in those kinds of moments.”

Hebard has done a few one-on-one workouts with the coach. She said it’s “fun to see how he thinks.”

She’s also making friendships with her teammates and was getting ready to head over to teammate Stefanie Dolson’s room for a spaghetti and meatball dinner. She was also planning to help another teammate, Gabby Williams, with her nails.

“It’s nice,” Hebard said. “It’s like we’re really a family. They’re all super friendly. It’s really fun to get to know them more and just have friends on your team that you trust, that you have a connection with and that you really get to know more than as basketball players.”

Being in the wubble is fostering those friendships up, too, she said. “We’re basically the only ones we can hang out with. It’s just fun being so close to them and see them every single day.”

Hebard described some of her teammates, starting with forward Azura Stevens, who leads the team in rebounds.

“She’s an amazing player, obviously,” Hebard said. “She’s super funny and goofy, as well. That’s always nice to have someone who’s just a good person on and off the court. I want to just watch her and learn from her, as well. She sometimes makes it look easy, how she plays. She works hard.”

Hebard said she watches Stevens, and the other starters, so she can learn as much as she can.

For instance, both Cheyenne Parker and Dolson encourage their teammates to “keep shooting, keep shooting” and to gradually expand their range to get in more three-pointers. Their experience in the league — and the fact that they too were once rookies — inspires Hebard.

“It’s nice to have that kind of reassurance,” she said.

Team captain Courtney Vandersloot “is the glue that holds the team together,” Hebard said. “I was talking to her and she says ‘I remember being a rookie and I didn’t get any calls.’

“It’s just nice to have all my teammates have my back,” Hebard said. “They all have gone through what I’m going through right now, so it’s just nice to hear all their stories.

“I think I’m really blessed because I think this team really does truly love each other; it’s truly a family.”

The Chicago Sky are also dedicated to social justice, launching the initiative “Sky Takes Action.”

“That’s one thing I love,” Hebard said. “They definitely have a voice off the court, as well.” Topics include such areas as children’s safety, race, equality, food. “They know they have a platform in the WNBA and they use that. That’s inspiring me because I want to be more than a basketball player.

“I want to be able to help out. I want to be able to have my own charity someday,” she said. “So just seeing that and knowing that I have people around me that I can ask questions is something that I’m definitely going to have to do more.”

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.

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