IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kathleen Doyle has quickly made a mark on Iowa basketball, and she’s become a favorite among fans in the process. How could she not?
Her energy is contagious, her smile infectious. She’s a dive-to-the-floor, big-ol’-mouthguard-wearin' glue girl who’s got a knack for making basketball fun. A perfect fit for the Hawkeyes. A prospect with lots of guts and some rough edges.
She’s also a last-minute Hawkeye.
Doyle, an ESPN top-100 recruit from La Grange Park, Ill., originally signed a letter of intent with Nebraska. The athletics website already had a player profile for her last year — that profile still exists.
It was all but official. Doyle was a Husker.
Until she wasn’t.
On April 5, Nebraska head coach Connie Yori resigned under pressure from the school. The athletic department had investigated claims from players that she had mistreated them. Yori denied those allegations.
Doyle reopened her recruitment, and Nebraska released her from her letter of intent.
"The kids go through the recruiting process, and they really spend a lot of their time talking to the coaching staff," Kathleen’s dad, Mike Doyle, told the Naperville Sun last May. "She has spent 18-24 months getting to know not only coach Yori but the assistants as well.
"A lot of the schools that recruited her the first time reached out and had an extremely high level of interest. This time the process sped up. We felt fortunate that Kathleen had other choices.”
Nearly 30 other choices, including Iowa.
The Hawkeyes weren't among Doyle’s finalists during Round 1 of recruitment. But they were in Round 2 — Whitney Jennings had transferred to Butler, and that opened a point guard slot in Iowa City.
Doyle committed to Iowa in late May over Nebraska (now coached by Amy Williams), Indiana and Vanderbilt.
"In a different time and place, we could see Kathleen playing for (Nebraska)," Mike Doyle said at the time. "But we're really excited about Iowa."
This whole ordeal is being relayed to you now for the obvious reason: Iowa hosts Nebraska on Saturday at 2 p.m. in its Big Ten home opener.
Doyle knows players on that team. She knows the new coaching staff. She and her family hosted them for dinner during Round 2 of recruitment.
Lots of familiar faces.
"That is really something we have to think about, and it’s something I haven't given enough thought to yet," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "But I’m sure that, emotionally, this has got to be very hard for (Doyle). And I think that Nebraska probably has strange feelings about (it), too."
Bluder’s seen this type of situation before. In 2000, freshman point guard Kristi Faulkner transferred from Illinois to Iowa. It took Faulkner a while to get comfortable playing against her former school and teammates, Bluder said.
"At least Kathleen wasn't there," Bluder said. "At least she wasn't actually part of the team. But it’s certainly something that we need to be aware of, going into this game, and consider those feelings she’s going to have, and consider those emotions she’s going to have.
"But at the end of the day, Kathleen, at Illinois, I thought she was the one who brought energy. She was the one that really did some great things for us. I think that Kathleen will play very well against Nebraska — at least that’s my hope — even though all these other things have happened."
The Hawkeyes could use a good game from Doyle. They can ill afford another loss to one of the conference’s bottom four teams: Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Rutgers.
Nebraska enters this contest 4-9 and ranked 132 in RPI. It’s second-to-last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, scoring defense and field goal percentage. It’s dead last in field goal percentage defense and turnover margin.
All that’s a bit misleading, though. Look at the Huskers’ nine losses: vs. Missouri, vs. Washington State, vs. Virginia, at now-No. 20 Virginia Tech, vs. now-No. 18 California, vs. Drake, at Creighton, vs. No. 1 UConn and vs. Northwestern.
"I don't think you look at any of those losses and say, 'Oh that’s a bad loss,'" Bluder said. "Not one of them on their schedule."
Still, because of the Huskers' RPI and how low they'll likely finish in the Big Ten, they would be a bad loss for Iowa.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
Saturday's game: Iowa (9-5) vs. Nebraska (4-9)
When/where: 2 p.m., Carver Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network Plus
About the game: Nebraska's 6-foot-4 forward Jessica Shepard leads the Huskers with 17.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She's also taken the second-most 3-pointers (40) on the team. She'll likely try to draw Megan Gustafson out of the paint as much as possible.