Kathleen Doyle’s introduction to the WNBA hasn’t gone how she ever imagined it would.
The former Hawkeye standout was a second-round pick by the Indiana Fever in April’s WNBA Draft. The season, which was originally set to start May 15, has been delayed for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s definitely not what I pictured, but honestly I’m just happy and feel blessed for the opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it,” Doyle said on a video conference. “I’m just excited to be playing with these elite players.”
Doyle hasn’t been in the WNBA long, but she’s already made a strong impression on the Fever coaching staff.
The Fever are in Bradenton, Florida, at the IMG Academy, the location for the WNBA’s shortened 22-game season that is set to start July 25. The team arrived at the “bubble” July 11 and will be there until its season is over.
One of Indiana’s key players hasn’t arrived yet.
All-Star guard and five-year WNBA veteran Erica Wheeler is undergoing another round of testing protocols and is not yet cleared to join the team. This has left a gap in Indiana’s backcourt as it goes through training camp.
Doyle and fellow rookie Julie Allemand have taken advantage of the opportunity.
“You wouldn’t know that they hadn’t played with their teammates before,” Indiana’s first-year head coach Marianne Stanley said on a video conference. “They both understand how to lead a team.”
Allemand, like Doyle, is a first-year WNBA player.
Professional inexperience hasn’t stopped Doyle from asserting herself on the floor, even while playing with and against veteran players.
“Julie and I have both taken it upon ourselves to do our best to run our teams and learn as we go and be confident in ourselves, but also learn from every mistake we make,” Doyle said. “You definitely want to assert yourself with confidence, especially as a point guard.”
Doyle hasn’t competed on the court in a live setting since the Hawkeyes lost to Ohio State March 6 in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament. The LaGrange Park, Illinois, native couldn’t finish her Hawkeye career in the NCAA Tournament as the pandemic halted sports.
“There was nothing we could really do about that in these crazy times,” Doyle said. “Staying diligent, working out, staying in shape, so that when we got to training camp, we were ready to go from the start. It’s definitely exciting that we’re finally getting going.”
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Second-round picks are never locks to make a WNBA team, but Doyle was announced on the Fever’s 12-player roster heading into the season.
Assistant coach Steve Smith said the team values versatility, something it is getting with the 5-foot-9 guard out of Iowa. Smith said Doyle is capable of playing either spot in the team’s backcourt.
“What we liked is that she obviously had a lot of talent, she had a lot of grit,” Smith said. “Great character kid, or young lady I should say, and we just feel like her potential is limitless. I compare her to a player that I saw come in years ago as a rookie that has the same type of grit and fire, and that was [2011 No. 3 overall pick] Courtney Vandersloot. And so if Kathleen does what she’s supposed to do, I think her potential is like that.”
As Doyle continues to adapt to her new surroundings in the WNBA, she’ll get a chance to see a familiar face in Indiana’s third game of the season. On July 31, the Fever take on Megan Gustafson and the Dallas Wings.
Gustafson, who won the Naismith Trophy as a senior at Iowa, played three seasons with Doyle in the Black and Gold.
Now the two Big Ten Player of the Year winners will be competing against each other.
“It will be weird playing against Megan. But it will be fun. I’m excited to see her and glad that we can both represent Iowa hopefully well in this league. I hope Megan has a good game,” Doyle said with a grin, “but I hope the Fever win.”