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Townsville Fire’s rising WNBL star Shyla Heal tipped for ‘enormously bright future’

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Shyla Heal’s future in international basketball is as big as her trademark triple and as bright as her beaming smile.

The 19-year-old point guard from the Townsville Fire — and youngest daughter of former NBA player, NBL star and coach, and four-time Olympian Shane Heal — is making waves and winning games in the WNBL.

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There is plenty of hype around Heal, who is already a national squad member and tipped to be a first-round selection in next year’s WNBA draft.

And there is extra attention and expectation when you also carry a famous basketball surname.

So, who is Shyla Heal?

“I’m probably one of the hardest workers, I pride myself on outworking my competitors but also being the hardest worker on my team,” Heal told ABC Sport.

And where did she learn to shoot like that?

“I’d have to say my dad,” laughed Heal.

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‘A true professional’

Heal made her WNBL debut at the ripe old age of 14 with the now defunct SEQ Stars, who were coached by her father.

Later, she joined the Perth Lynx, where she was sidelined for much of her time with the club because of injury, before moving to the Bendigo Spirit in the 2019-20 season.

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With 30 points against the Lynx last January, she became the first teenager since Australia’s-greatest ever basketballer Lauren Jackson to achieve that feat in a WNBL game.

Her off-season move to Townsville was made so she could play for Fire coach Shannon Seebohm, one of the best women’s basketball mentors in the country.

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“Shannon was what attracted me to the club. I love playing under him, I love his offences,” Heal said.

“He shows me film after each game and for me it’s all about development at a young age. Getting better each game is the biggest thing for me and I definitely knew he’d provide that at Townsville and that’s why I came here.

“I love playing with this Townsville team, they’re all awesome. I also love playing with [Australian Opals squad member] Lauren Nicholson, being in the backcourt with her.

“She’s not only good offensively but defensively, she’s awesome. Loz [Nicholson] has taken me under her wing and we’re playing really well together.”

Seebohm is full of praise for his young star.

“Shyla’s one of the hardest working players that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“When we first signed her, you stay in contact each week and the amount of work she was putting in to be ready for this season was incredible and you can tell from watching her play the amount of time she’s put in on her game, her skills and her shooting.

A hunger to learn was one of Heal’s biggest strengths, according to Seebohm.

“Shyla is a sponge,” Seebohm said.

“She actively seeks out feedback, watches video and wants to see ways she can improve her play and improve her basketball IQ, make better reads on the court, get her teammates involved.

“She’s just a true professional at the age of 19.”

Making her mark in the WNBL

Heal is averaging 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists, and in round two of the WNBL season she took her team on her shoulders to back-to-back wins within 24 hours.

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She said she has yet to reach her peak.

“I still think I have a lot to get better at obviously as the games go on. I haven’t felt I’ve played my best yet,” Heal said.

“I’m slowly just getting into it, trying to really play the role Shannon wants me to play, create for my teammates but also create for myself as well, being that true point guard and playing my role.

“This is the first season I’ve played the point guard spot, which is my actual position, so last year at Bendigo I played the two-three spot, the year before in Perth I was injured.

“I feel so much more natural being able to set my teammates up and I feel a lot more confident and that all my work in the off-season with my dad is starting to pay off.”

Dad gives a helping hand

Heal said her dad is her biggest influence.

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“Having dad by my side is awesome, not just for advice but everything I’m going through, he’s been through,” she said.

“In the off-season in Sydney we really focused on developing my game, getting better each day for this WNBL season and we worked out every weekday through COVID, whether it was an outdoor court, if they were open, or indoor. We got it done and we’re happy we did.”

So, what does she make of all the hype and external noise?

“I do hear it. I’m just trying to block it all out,” Heal said.

Getting drafted to the WNBA and representing the Opals at an Olympic Games have long been goals and may not be that far away as a big 2021 looms.

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“A lot obviously depends on this season but I’m really trying not to think that far ahead,” Heal said.

“I’m focused on playing my role like Shannon wants me to and getting better each day and if I get better each day, I feel like everything will fall into place.

“If you think about it too much, it just adds more pressure.”

Heal said she was focused on the Fire and just how far they could go, as the race for the WNBL championship unfolds on their home turf in the league’s hub in North Queensland.

“Personally, I just want to keep getting better each game, being more a student of the game and coming up against the more experienced point guards like [WNBA and Australian Opals point guard] Leilani Mitchell.

“I just want to play well, help my team and lead my team like I have been.”

Round three of the WNBL continues this afternoon with Adelaide facing Sydney Uni from 5:00pm AEDT on ABC TV.

Megan Hustwaite has covered the WNBL for the past 12 seasons and is a member of the ABC Sport commentary team.

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