FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On April 17, Ruthy Hebard became the first basketball player from Fairbanks to be drafted to the WNBA when she was selected 8th overall by the Chicago Sky.
"I was just so excited," Hebard said Friday in front of her alma mater West Valley High School. "The coach of Chicago (James Wade) called me and I was like 'dang it's really happening, it's here'. It is something I have dreamed about, I am so happy I got to make it a reality." she added.
Hebard will become just the fifth player from Alaska to play in the WNBA and the first from the Golden Heart City (Chugiak's Kelsey Griffin, Palmer's Jessica Moore, Soldotna's Molly Tuter and Juneau's Andrea Lloyd).
Born in Chicago before she was adopted and raised in Fairbanks, draft night served as a homecoming for Hebard in a couple different ways; she was drafted by the city where she was born and there was a literal homecoming, with a social distancing parade following the draft that followed down the road to her old high school. Dozens of cars lined up and supporters with signs stood six-feet apart from each other to congratulate the pride of Fairbanks, who has never lost touch with her roots.
"It has just been great, I want to thank them and the people helped me get there and thank you guys who all came out, it was so fun. I love you guys." Hebard said.
Most people who watched Hebard from her days at West Valley could see something special; a long, athletic forward who could run the floor, distribute and never took a play off. After collecting three Gatorade Player of the Year awards in Alaska, the state's best player took her talents to the University of Oregon after graduating in 2016. In her four years as a Duck, she, Sabrina Ionescu (1st overall, New York Liberty) and Satou Sabally (2nd overall, Dallas Wings) built a powerhouse that was one of the best teams in the nation before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The list of achievements run deep for the 6-foot-4 power forward, who has plastered her name on several records at Oregon and beyond: (per goducks.com)
-Oregon and Pac-12 all-time leader in career field-goal percentage (65.1).
-Oregon all-time leader in career field goals made (987).
-NCAA record-holder for consecutive field goals made (33).
-No. 2 in Oregon history in points (2,368), double-figure scoring games (123) and games played (144).
-1st among Alaskan Women Division I athletes in total points, rebounds and assists
-No. 3 in Oregon history in rebounds (1,299) and No. 5 in double-doubles (55).
-2x Katrina McClain Award Winner (nation's top power forward)
-Associated Press First-Team All-America
-2x USA Basketball 3x3 national champion
-Silver Medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship (2017)
Draft night is the moment all young athletes dream of, getting their named called up to the big leagues. Due to the current pandemic, the WNBA hosted a virtual draft, as ESPN sent draftees a camera set up to stream from home. Thanks to technical difficulties, Hebard was the only draftee from the first round who did not have her in-draft interview aired on ESPN. However, it doesn't take away from history, which will remember Hebard fondly.
As one of only a handful of Alaskan women to make it to the league, Hebard shared some words for younger athletes in the state who may want to follow her journey.
"Just keep going and have fun with it, anything can happen," Hebard said. "Just get out there, try to get to camps, but in reality, just work hard, have fun and you'll make your dreams come true."
Currently in Fairbanks for the time being, Ruthy hopes to return to her hometown throughout her career and help other players achieve their goals.
"I want to come back and run camps and do other things here, I want to put Alaska on the map more, so come back as much as I can and help them out and support Alaska."
With a glass case full of awards and accolade list longer than the flight to Chicago, the best of Hebard, may still be yet to come.