Kathleen Doyle's tenacity attracts Indiana Fever early in WNBA Draft's second round

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

Once Iowa's memorable 2019 class departed after last year's Elite Eight run, every opportunity was there for Kathleen Doyle to shine. It was simply up to her how high she wanted to reach.

Big Ten Conference player of the year, check. Clear-cut leader of an NCAA Tournament team, check. Legacy cemented as one of the best to play under coach Lisa Bluder, check. 

Now, Doyle has parlayed all that into a WNBA chance. 

The former Hawkeye was selected No. 14 overall by the Indiana Fever in Friday's WNBA Draft, which was held virtually on ESPN due to the coronavirus pandemic. Doyle's selection came with the second pick of the second round — three spots ahead of where Megan Gustafson was picked in 2019.

Pair those two together, and Iowa has selections in back-to-back WNBA drafts for the first time since 2001-02. Doyle is also just the third Hawkeyes guard drafted since 2007 and the first picked since Samantha Logic in 2015.

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle drives to the basket as Ohio State guard Braxtin Miller, left, and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková (23) defend during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

"I'm going to be going against the best in the world, but those are the kinds of situations I love to put myself in," Doyle said in a Saturday morning call. "People appreciate that competitive fire — and you're going to need it, especially as a rookie in the WNBA. People are going to come at you and try to show you what's up a little bit.

"I'm ready for it."   

Friday's landing spot came sooner than Doyle's pre-draft prognostications. The final mocks from DraftSite.com, ESPN and BBall Index all had her going somewhere after the opening round — but in the range of 22nd to 24th overall. Some projections even had Doyle dropping to early in the third round.  

Although non-first-round picks often face uphill battles for roster spots, what Doyle showed in her senior season left teams eyeing her for some time. Her trademark personality — full of energy and tenacity in every setting — boosted Doyle's stock in the pre-draft process.

The Fever certainly bought in.   

"For me, Kathleen does one thing exceptionally well as a point guard — and that is she advances the ball quickly," Indiana coach Marianne Stanley said on a call after the draft. "The ball doesn't stick in her hands. The ball moves. She gets people into their spots. She gets the ball up the floor in transition, and that's going to help our wings and our guards because we've got some pretty good guards to put around her.

”So having someone who can facilitate and move the ball is really valuable."

Doyle displayed that ability throughout a senior year loaded with highlights and accolades. She finished the season ranked in the top-50 nationally in five categories: sixth in total assists (189), seventh in assists per game (6.3), 19th in free throws made (147), 37th in total points (544) and 49th in points per game (18.1).         

She was unanimously named Big Ten player of the year on March 2, kicking off a month of awards that mildly mitigated the sting caused by the NCAA Tournament's cancellation. Doyle was also named to three all-American teams: Associated Press (third team), United States Basketball Writers Association (third team) and Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Now comes time to start over. Doyle must scratch and claw for every chance to stay afloat in women's basketball's most visible professional league.

"It made sense (for Indiana) to go big in the first round (with No. 3 overall pick Lauren Cox) because Erica Wheeler is set at point guard, but it makes sense now to get some insurance for Wheeler down the road — or at least someone to compete for a roster spot in camp," ESPN women's basketball analyst Graham Hays wrote in his post-draft analysis. "Like Megan Gustafson, her former Iowa teammate, Doyle is going to have to prove she has the quickness for the WNBA. But she has good all-around skills at point." 

After going 13-21 in 2019 — Indiana's fourth straight non-winning season since reaching the 2015 WNBA Finals — the Fever have been under new guidance since the fall. On Nov. 26, the organization announced Stanley as head coach and expanded Tamika Catchings' duties to include general manager (she was already vice president of basketball operations).

Indiana's primary backcourt rotation features two other Big Ten alums: Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and Wheeler, a Rutgers product. Former South Carolina standout Tiffany Mitchell started 14 games last year. Victoria Vivians will be back from a torn ACL as well.      

Additionally, the start of training camps and the WNBA season, originally scheduled for April 26 and May 15 respectively, have been postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. That only adds more uncertainty to situations like Doyle's.

"It’s the hardest professional league to make in terms of the percentage of people who play," ESPN women's basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo said this week. "There are 144 jobs when everyone is carrying a full roster. And at the beginning of this season, not everyone will likely be carrying a full roster."

Consider Doyle ready for the road ahead. The same unwavering competitiveness that buoyed her Iowa career should fuel her professional journey.

"I'm not going to back down from any challenge," Doyle said. 

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.