2019.03.22.EMG.SEN.UO.WBB.vs.PSU.NCAA.ROUND.1-1.jpg

Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) celebrates the victory with forward Ruthy Hebard (24). Oregon Ducks women’s basketball takes on Portland State University in the first round of the NCAA Championship at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on March 22, 2019. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

TAMPA, Fla.  — Ruthy Hebard always wanted sisters. 

Adopted into the Hebard family when she was just a few days old, she grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, with two brothers, one older and one younger, each adopted as well. 

At age 18, Hebard joined a new family. A family where everyone wears matching green and yellow colors and passed around an orange and black ball most days of the week. Not only did she finally gain a sister, actually 13 at the time, but she gained multiple parent-like role models, including head coach Kelly Graves, who recruited her to join the Oregon family in the first place by sharing his own priority of family.

“When Coach Graves was recruiting me, he talked about family and that’s the biggest thing to me, so just having another family here that I can go to for anything, all these different personalities that match, is just really great,” she said.

Just last Sunday, Hebard’s Oregon family made history, earning its way to the program’s first-ever Final Four. Over the past three seasons, Hebard has gone from a quiet freshman to becoming Oregon’s dominant strong forward, taking down rivaled opponents and constantly providing a force in the paint when needed most. 

“She’s kind of out of her shell and I’m just proud of her,” senior Maite Cazorla said. “She is just such a good person and loving. She makes all of us just stick together and look out for each other. She just brings a lot.”

Cazorla remembers Hebard’s first couple of practices at Oregon and how the Alaska native was often shy. But it’s that slight shyness that sophomore Satou Sabally immediately recognized her first year on the team and instantly knew her younger sister, Nyara, would fit in perfectly with Hebard, as Satou says the two share similar personalities.

“Ruthy has been a really good role model,” Nyara said. “It’s funny — before I came here, my sister always said we were kind of alike, like personality-wise. Ruthy has been a good person to look up to. She’s always in a good mood, always brings joy to the team.” 

Last year, Hebard earned the Katrina McClain Award for the National Power Forward of the Year, and this year she is a finalist for the award again, averaging a double-double in the Tournament thus far with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

And come Friday night’s semifinal game against Baylor, Hebard will be surrounded by both of her families, as her Alaskan family has made the long travel from one corner of the country to the other to be able to cheer on her Oregon family.

“You can’t say any bad thing about Ruthy because she is so selfless and she’s a great player,” Satou said. “[She’s] just so open-minded and we can always go to her and talk with her and she will protect you with her life. She’s the same way she is on the court: selfless and just there for you if you need her.”

Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni