Age is just a number for the Spirited Shyla Heal
It’s an unavoidable truth that the media loves leaning on obvious narratives. In the case of Shyla Heal of the Bendigo Spirit, the story that has surrounded her for much of her basketball career is how young she is, compared to the players she competes against.
The reason it keeps coming up, of course, is because she’s consistently stepped up and played exceptionally well, turning heads in short order. In her first year in Bendigo after an injury-shortened rookie season with the Perth Lynx, the 18-year-old has lit up the stat sheet, playing with a hunger and tenacity that has been impressive to see.
Alas, she keeps hearing the same tune. But like an old pro, she’s taking it in stride.
“[I] have a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘oh my god, you’re doing so well, you’re only 18!'” Heal told the Pick and Roll. “But I feel like age isn’t a thing for me, I know I can compete at this level.
“I’m excited for the next few years to show the league what I can really do.”
Through twelve games, Heal has emerged as a dependable scorer, tied for first on the team with 122 points. She’s also proven a crafty defender, her 10 steals placing her second among Spirit players, while nabbing 3 boards per game.
Despite her efforts however, the season has been marred by disappointment, and after a promising start, Bendigo are at the bottom of the WNBL ladder with a 2-10 record.
“It’s been a bit different compared to other seasons, just because we’re not winning as much,” Heal confessed. “But we’re a really close team off the court, which is good, and it’s keeping us together on the court as well.
“We talk about it every week, but we just need to get on the same page defensively. We let other teams score way too many [points], and it’s not good enough for this league, because everyone’s good, everyone can win.
“We need to take care of our defence.”
Heal has been honing her craft from a young age. Her father, Shane, made his mark in the NBL and abroad as a potent scorer with a knack for finding the open man, and he’s proven instrumental in instilling the kind of work ethic and determination he was known for.
“My dad and I, we worked so hard and [he] always gives me confidence,” Heal explained. “He told me when I first signed in Perth, ‘I know you can compete in this league’.
“I took a lot of confidence from that. Obviously getting injured set me back a fair bit, but I feel like this season, I’ve really shown myself that I can do it. I think I can do even better than I am now, I just need to start proving it.”
A stress fracture in her left foot cost Heal most of her campaign with Perth last season, but prior to that, she was wowing crowds with her stellar performance at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 Women’s Basketball World Cup.
She led all Aussie scorers in four of seven contests, and in a particularly inspired victory over Latvia, she paced the team in points (17), rebounds (11) and assists (3). Australia handily claimed third in the tourney and Heal was named to the All-Tournament team.
Heal’s talents also led Australia to 2019 3×3 U18 Asian Cup gold, dominating the event and earning tournament MVP honours, once again demonstrating her versatility. It was also recently announced that she would suit up for the Hobart Chargers in the 2020 NBL1 season.
The slow start for the Spirit is unfamiliar territory for her, but she has plenty of role models surrounding her to help build her game along the way, including veterans Tessa Lavey and Kelly Wilson.
“[It’s been] so good playing behind Tessa and Kels,” Heal said. “They have so much experience and the knowledge that they speak every day, I just learn so much. I’ve picked up little things and added to my game, so it’s really good.”
Heal has also excelled at the line, hitting 18 of 19 free throws. That’s the fifth highest percentage in the WNBL, and another testament to her mental game.
“[It comes down to] just really doing the same thing each time,” she explained. “Whether you’re tired or not, holding your follow through and using your legs, those are two things I focus on when I go to the free throw line, and I get it done.”
That’s the kind of dependability Bendigo will need if they hope to turn their season around, and they’ll get their next chance tomorrow as they host the Sydney Uni Flames.
“It all starts on the defence again,” Heal mentioned as the key to victory. “If we can play our team defence, get stops and push the ball in transition, I think we’ll be a good chance to win.
“We just need to stay together, have fun and do the best we can for the rest of the season, get some wins.”
Be sure to check out the rest of Bendigo’s schedule as the WNBL’s 40th season enters its tenth round and teams make their playoff push.
Photo Credit: Akuna Photography