Shyla Heal takes aim at 2021 WNBA Draft

Shane Heal became a household name across Australia after starring in the NBL and for Australia on the world stage in the 90's. The apple does not fall far from the tree for his daughter Shyla, who is going about making a name for herself and in her own right.

The dynamic 18-year-old guard did more than just hold her own against older, more experienced professionals in the WNBL for Bendigo this past season, proving she is the future of Australian basketball.

After an injury interrupted season with Perth, Heal wasted no time in making the transition with the Spirit, coming off the bench in becoming the team's most consistent contributor throughout the 2019/20 season.

"I was just trying to find my rhythm and adjust [to the new team]," explained Heal in speaking with The Pick and Roll.

Finding her rhythm may be an understatement, for Heal would go on to average 12.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals in playing 25.3 minutes per game coming off the bench. In a remarkable feat, she shaded veteran Carly Ernst in leading the Spirit in scoring, and would go on to earn Bendigo's end of season 'Most Consistent Player' award.

"I started playing point guard more, playing with my team mates well, and coming off on-balls and being able to score," shared Heal on her play with the Spirit.

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Bendigo endured a difficult WNBL season, with injuries to key players undermining their finals aspirations. Out of adversity comes opportunities, and Heal grasped them when they were presented, including a statement game against her former club Perth. In that outing, she exploded for a career-high 30 points on a red-hot 11 of 16 shooting, becoming the first 18-year-old to do so since a young Lauren Jackson.

"It was a pretty tough season," Heal admitted. "Our import left, injuries also didn't help us. It did mean I got an opportunity to step up in the absence of others to play more.

"People didn't expect me to do much given my age either. To me, age is just a number."

Unlike a growing number of Australian women who are choosing to play in US College, Heal chose to stay in Australia to work on her game. The decision was an easy one for her however, and it is already paying dividends.

"I had a few offers," shared Heal on the interest she received from US colleges. "But it is 4 years of playing against other kids versus playing against professionals. I'd rather be playing against the best, and this is the WNBA pathway for me."

Heal has already represented Australia at junior level, turning out for gold medals at the FIBA Under 17 Oceania Championships and Under 19 Women's World Cup. Speaking with a maturity beyond her years, Heal was crystal clear on where her ambition lay; to play in the WNBA and represent the Opals on the world stage.

She explained that while she would love to play in the Olympics in Tokyo, she was realistic as to the next steps to take in progressing toward her goals which includes playing in the WNBL again next season, although she has yet to be signed by a team.

"I just want to play well next year in the WNBL and hopefully get my foot in the door of the Opals squad," outlined Heal. "Then my focus will turn to WNBA Draft next year. I'll also consider my options [for the WNBL] and my development needs for next season."

Before the WNBL returns however, Heal will continue working out with her dad - former Australian Boomers star Shane - and has signed to play with the resurrected Hobart Chargers who will play in the 2020 NBL1 season. She explained that the opportunity presented with the Chargers was too good to refuse, allowing her to further develop her game despite receiving some interest from European clubs.

"I've been doing my [NBL1] preseason with dad," explained Heal. "I'll be arriving in Hobart about a week before the first game.

"We have a young team, and [head coach] Mark [Nash], is looking for [import] Kathleen [Scheer] and I to lead the team and step up. This is one of the reasons I signed as I get to lead the team and get the experience I need while looking to dominate - whether that is scoring or forcing opposition turnovers. I have a good relationship with Mark, and importantly he believes in me."

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Utilising her father's experience as a former NBA and NBL athlete, Heal appreciates the support he provides.

"Dad is very special," Heal acknowledged. "I have an advantage that other people don't have. It's fun when he is coaching me. We have a great relationship and he is always there to help me when I want it."

With an insatiable hunger to improve and terrific work ethic, when combined with her outstanding ball handling and shot-making ability, there is no doubting her potential.

While we can look forward to her exploits in NBL1 and the WNBL next season, expect to hear the name Shyla Heal called in the 2021 WNBA Draft in April next year.