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Interview: Shyla Heal is taking her time getting back to the WNBA

After less-than-ideal circumstances with the Chicago Sky cut short her (first) stint in the WNBA, Shyla Heal, the No. 8 pick of the 2021 draft, is taking a patient approach to her hoops career.

Los Angeles Sparks v Chicago Sky
Shyla Heal looks to evade a defender during her short stint with the Chicago Sky during the 2021 WNBA season.
Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Don’t call Shyla Heal a bust. Not now, not ever.

The 5-foot-6 point guard was selected eighth in the 2001 WNBA Draft at the age of 19 by the Chicago Sky after a stellar season for the Townsville Fire of the Australian Women’s National Basketball League, in which she averaged 16.7 points and 3.4 assists.

Following circumstances beyond her control, she was traded after just four games from Chicago to the Dallas Wings, and then cut. On her W experience, Heal emphasized:

I don’t want to blame anyone for the circumstances in Chicago. It was difficult, but I continue to grow on and off the court after playing professionally from a young age.

Now she is on a comeback trail, taking her time and collecting experiences. This year she won her first Australian championship, made her debut for the Australian national team and signed a deal with Polish champions, Polski Cukier AZS UMCS Lublin, to serve as the team’s primary playmaker.

The Playmaker

Shyla Heal has always lived with the burden of expectations weighing heavily on her shoulders. The daughter of a basketball player and coach, she has been training since the age of six and turned pro at the age of 14. The end goal has always been the WNBA.

Her father, Shane, played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs. He played in Greece and Italy as well, so he advised Shyla to give Europe a try. Speaking on her dad’s support for her career, she shared:

Dad and I are close and we always talk about my development and my overall game and the best steps. He played in Europe as an import for four years and he has always said that I will learn a different way of playing in the EuroLeague. He knows this experience will make me a better player.

Shane Heal did not play at the American collegiate level and still reached the NBA as a 6-foot guard, which is no small achievement (no pun intended). His daughter wanted to get to the WNBA sooner so she skipped college and showcased her skills playing in the WNBL, as well as for the national team at various youth levels.

Looking back, Heal treats her short stay in the WNBA as a learning experience. She has no excuses and holds no grudges, stating:

My WNBA experience was unique. It was during COVID and I had not played a game in over six months. I couldn’t get a visa to get into the country for some time and missed the entire training camp. I arrived six games into the season and the team was losing and had lots of injuries. They threw me in immediately, but I really needed time to learn the plays and the players to get ready. They ended up cutting the other first round draft pick and I in the same week.

First the EuroLeague, then the WNBA

Still just 21 years old, Heal is in no rush to return to the WNBA at all costs. Instead, she wants to take her time to learn and develop. She suggested:

I know I can play well in the WNBA, but will go back in the right circumstances next time. Playing in the EuroLeague is something I’m more motivated by right now. This experience will help me continue to evolve as a player.

She picked Lublin, a city in Eastern Poland, as her next stop on the road back to the WNBA. However, she is not treating the team as a stepping stone. After she got a taste of what it feels like to be a champion, she wants to win the league here as well, asserting:

My agent Eric Wiesel convinced me that Lublin is the perfect place for me to play. I spoke with the coach and was impressed with his vision and the things he believes in for me and the team. I know I can help the team at both ends of the court and would love to help Lublin win another Championship. I just won a title in Australia and winning and developing is important to me.

Thanks to Shyla Heal’s new team, AZS UMCS Lublin, for helping us reach her for this short interview.