Howard Finds Gem in Doyle
WASHINGTON, D.C. - During a time when there are no secrets in the recruiting world of college athletics, Howard University may have trumped everyone and landed one of the best kept secrets in women's college basketball. When the 2009-10 season began back in November, very few people knew about Saadia Doyle. She did not come to Howard with any high accolades or all-American honors.
Well, that has all changed. The 5-11 forward from Atlanta, GA is no longer a secret. Just ask the Howard University opponents who have had to face her this season.
Doyle's odyssey to the Mecca started when she was a senior at Columbia High School in Decatur, GA. A four-year performer, Doyle went virtually unnoticed despite amassing over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career there.
Despite her numbers, the teams she played on went over .500 only once and that was in her sophomore season. They failed to advance past the first round. So Doyle received little exposure and was reduced to being her team's only scoring threat. The only school that showed serious interest was the US Naval Academy
Then things took on a different twist for Doyle, when Kathy Richie Walton, the head coach of South West DeKalb High School girls' team, called former Lady Bison head coach Cathy Parson and recommended that she should look at Doyle. Coach Parson followed up and came to see Doyle play. But it was the sport of volleyball, not basketball. Parson did get some game tapes of basketball.
Parson was impressed enough that she asked Doyle to make an official visit to Howard after she visited the Naval Academy.
"My thinking was that I did not want to go a school that was too large, yet I did not want to go some place that was too small," explains Doyle. "When I visited Howard, it was the right fit for me. There was a homey environment. The five-year accounting program was a major attraction for me as was the School of Business, which is highly respected."
Doyle committed to Howard, but it was not a cut-and-dry situation. A series of changes took place that challenged her. First Coach Parson's contract was not renewed and the University hired Niki Reid Geckeler to take over the Howard program. To complicate matters even more, Doyle tore the ACL in her left knee and had to sit out for a season.
"It was a very tough time for me," she recalls. "I became very depressed and actually took off a while to re-group. Once I got myself together, I re-committed and began my rehab and physical therapy sessions. Travis (Coleman), the strength and conditioning coach, did a lot to help me regain the muscle mass that I had lost in addition to getting back in shape."
Still, Doyle was facing some new challenges under Coach Geckeler and a team comprised of mostly true freshmen.
"In the beginning, I knew that it was an interesting mix," said Doyle. "I knew that I was a freshman on the court but not in terms of being at the University. I was trying to blend with the new players and with the veterans at different times. Finally, the coaches told me that I was an important part of this team. That went a long way to helping my adjustment."
Coach Geckeler says that they saw early signs that Doyle had the potential to be a special player.
"Anytime you come into a program and inherit players, they automatically become your players from coaching standpoint," says Geckeler. "With Saadia, we developed a very good relationship from the beginning. We could see from the individual workouts that she was a skilled player. She has a great work ethic and she is very disciplined. You could tell that she was focused."
It did not take Doyle long to make her presence felt once she got on the court. In the season opener, the Lady Bison dropped a decision to American University, but Doyle recorded a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds. Little did anyone know that she would go on to have the kind of season she has had. To date, she has recorded 17 double doubles. She posted a career-high 32 points against Maryland Eastern Shore and grabbed a career-best 22 rebounds against Coppin State.
She is a shoo-in for the MEAC Rookie of the Year award after being selected Rookie of the Week seven times this season. As of press time, she ranks seventh in the country in double doubles and is 13th in rebounding. She is strong candidate for all-MEAC honors, a rarity for a freshman player in the conference.
While many freshmen hit the "wall" at some point during their first season of competition at the collegiate level, Doyle has not only remained consistent, she has actually gotten better in some areas. She has been virtually unstoppable at times during the season in the post area and has displayed the ability to hit the short range jump shot on occasion.
That is why the Lady Bison have been one of the surprises, having won three in a row and are currently tied for fourth place in the conference with two games remaining in the regular season.
"It is almost surreal that I am playing college basketball at this level," says Doyle, an economics major. "Now that I am comfortable, I just try to be consistent. My teammates know what they are going to get out of me every game."
Doyle is quick to give credit to teammate Zykia "Ziggy" Brown for much of her success. The team's leader and second leading scorer in the conference, Brown takes some of the pressure off Doyle and the team, which starts four freshmen and plays several others extensively (Howard is one of the youngest squads in the nation with eight freshmen).
"It is awesome playing with Ziggy," says Doyle. "She makes everyone around her better. It is so refreshing to not have to go out and have to score 25 points every night in order for your team to have a chance to win."
As for her comfort zone in other areas here at Howard, Doyle points to Coach Geckeler.
"Coach G is on top of everything," says Doyle. "She makes sure you do all the things you need to do in the classroom so that you are able to compete on the court. And now that she is a mother, she takes on a role of being a mother to the team when it comes to things with us off the court." Coach Geckeler has a nine-month old daughter, Makenzie.
Howard was picked to finish eighth in the MEAC pre-season poll, but because of the emergence of Doyle, the improvement of Brown and the rapid development of the freshmen class, the Lady Bison have exceeded expectations by winning more games (14) than they did all of last season (nine). Doyle says that the team is not satisfied with what they have accomplished thus far.
"The goal is to make it past the first round," she says. "Then we will take it one game at a time. We have grown a lot as a team during the season. There were games that we lost that we should have won due to lack of discipline and not being able to finish. So we have to take that and build on it."