In this Dec. 17, 2016, photo, Oregon forward Ruthy Hebard practices with the team before an NCAA college basketball game against Portland State in Portland, Ore. The freshman forward grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. She was a prep standout there, but to deve
Anne M. Peterson
December 30, 2016

It's much easier for Ruthy Hebard to get recognized for her skills now that she's at Oregon.

The Ducks freshman forward grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. She was a prep standout there, but to develop as a player and get attention on a bigger stage, it was a seven hour's drive south to play with an Anchorage team during the summer.

''I had a best friend who lived in Anchorage, so I'd go down for maybe a week and stay with them, and I'd fly back and forth a few times. I'd do the camps for sure. I definitely travelled a lot during the summers,'' she laughed.

Logging all those miles paid off for the 6-foot-3 Hebard, who is now drawing the attention of Oregon's opponents.

Already a starter, Hebard's shooting percentage is 74.7 percent - second only to national leader Lanay Montgomery, a senior at West Virginia who is hitting 75 percent from the floor.

Hebard ranks among the Pac-12's top 15 for scoring with 13.8 points per game, and she's ranked sixth overall for rebounding with an average of 8.7 a game. She's got four double-doubles.

''We knew she was really talented, but yeah, she's come along a little bit maybe quicker than we thought,'' coach Kelly Graves said after a game earlier this season. ''This was a big jump, so we didn't know. But she's just been terrific.''

The Ducks, who were ranked earlier this season for the first time since 2003, open Pac-12 conference play on Friday against No. 9 Washington (13-1, 1-0). Oregon (10-2) will likely be without two key players, sophomore point guard Maite Cazorla and freshman Sabrina Ionescu, because of injuries.

Conference play promises to be tough across the league. A record seven Pac-12 teams are ranked this week, and two teams remain undefeated.

Even if they aren't quite ready to be among the league's elite, the Ducks' future looks bright. Hebard was part of a recruiting class that was ranked one of the best in the nation.

Ionescu, considered the No. 4 overall recruit in the country, has already made an impact, like Hebard. She has had two triple-doubles so far this season, joining Northern Illinois' Ally Lehman as the only Division I players in the country with two.

Graves also brought in forward Sierra Campisano, a 6-3 forward who averaged 30 points a game for her high school in San Diego.

''I saw some of the girls play summer ball, and I wanted to be their teammate,'' Hebard said about her decision to come to Eugene.

Hebard also played hockey as a youth growing up in Fairbanks, but in middle school basketball became her sport. At West Valley High School she averaged 25.9 points and 15.1 rebounds her senior season.

She's the only player from West Valley whose number has been retired.

Hebard says the thing that has been the most surprising about college ball is the fact that she's already starting for the Ducks. She credits fellow forward Jacinta Vanderberg, a senior starter, with guiding her into the role.

''I thought I could help the team, but I didn't think I'd be starting - at all,'' she said. ''Jacinta definitely built my confidence up. You can see it on the court how she helps everyone, and especially the post players.''

Hebard thinks the Ducks overall are underrated - and that they could turn out to be one of the surprises of the league.

''Like Coach Kelly always says, it doesn't matter what the rankings are,'' she said, ''We just have to keep doing us.''

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