Shyla Heal beamed and hugged her celebrated basketball father Shane after being taken with pick eight in the WNBA draft, the Australian teenager ready to jump into the deep end of the best women’s league in the world.
The 19-year-old point guard was chosen by the Chicago Sky on Friday (AEST), with her new side backing her to play immediately in the new season starting in the US on May 16.
Heal follows in the footsteps of Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Michele Timms and Liz Cambage in being drafted out of the WNBL without playing in US college basketball, with some WNBA media surprised Heal was taken in the first round considering more established US college stars were still available. Texas centre Charli Collier was selected by the Dallas Wings as the No.1 pick.
“It just feels so surreal right now. I actually have been picturing this moment, visualising it since I was a little kid,” Heal said.
“I can’t wait to get to Chicago. 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.”
Shyla paid tribute to her father for his work in training and developing her. Shane played in four Olympic Games for Australia and professionally in the NBL, NBA and Europe from 1988-2009 including an NBL championship in 2003. He has coached at NBL , NZNBL and WNBL level and was recently appointed Sydney University Flames coach.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” she said.
“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. He’s such a big influence in my life on and off the court, and I’m so grateful for him.”
Sky coach and general manager James Wade said Chicago will throw Heal in right away.
“We have been very transparent that the point guard we chose at eight, we are bringing them in to play,” Wade said.
Heal’s outstanding WNBL form in helping the Townsville Fire to the grand final caught Chicago’s attention, including her stellar finals series where she scored 30 points against eventual champions Southside Flyers in the semi-finals and 28 points in a preliminary final win.
Wade spoke or received emails from several Australian contacts including Opals captain Jenna O’Hea and Timms. But what sold him was watching Heal hold her own against WNBA guards like Leilani Mitchell in the WNBL.
“I saw how much they committed to stopping her, you are talking about WNBA players with a great roster committing to stopping a 19-year-old – that was telling and she handled it well,” Wade said.
“When we spoke to her, she just blew us off the charts, she loves basketball.
“We don’t know how long the adjustment period will be whether it’s 30 minutes, 30 days, 60 days – we don’t know. The one thing we know is we have confidence in her and we know she can be a good player in this league.”
Heal remains in the running to make the Opals squad for the Tokyo Olympics.
Queensland and Syracuse University guard Tania Mangakahia went undrafted after starring for her school this season following her recovery from breast cancer. Mangakahia could still find her way to the league via free agency and training camp.