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Amid the new normal, former Hawkeye Kathleen Doyle navigates the start of her WNBA career

Ethan Sears
Indianapolis Star

When Kathleen Doyle walked off the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court March 6, her Iowa Hawkeyes having lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament opener, the longest layoff she might have considered was that between the first Friday of the month and the NCAA tournament's first round, set for the March 20. The Big Ten plays its conference tournament in basketball a full week before the men to avoid scheduling conflicts, a fact that accounted for much annoyance back when two weeks constituted a serious break in play.

Instead of the NCAA tournament providing her a final chance to wear an Iowa uniform — perhaps even at home, according to some projections at the time — Doyle's basketball layoff, like everyone else's, hasn't yet ended. She sat Saturday in at IMG Academy housing in Bradenton, Florida, popping onto a Zoom window wearing an Indiana Fever pullover, just seven days away from bridging the over four-month gap between games.

Asked about her expectations for the season, Doyle used the word "excited" or a variant of it three times in a 15-second answer. Who could blame her?

The Fever's second-round pick in this year's draft, she started to get herself noticed on tape this year, according to assistant coach Steve Smith, playing for an Iowa team that had lost a dominant interior scorer in Megan Gustafson. Doyle's numbers ticked up — from 12 points per game to 18, from 5.9 assists to 6.3 — and so did the Fever's interest.

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle (22) takes the ball up court during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

"One, 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 Courtney Vandersloot. And so if Kathleen does what she’s supposed to do, I think her potential is like that."

With point guard Erica Wheeler yet to arrive in Bradenton, Doyle and fellow newcomer Julie Allemand have taken a larger load in practices. She's trying to be confident but cognizant, learning from mistakes while asserting herself. Whether or not that will get her ready for the season, though, belies that Doyle is working through all of this as her first professional experiences, and in a league where — under normal circumstances — second-round picks often struggle to stick.

"It’s definitely been tough, but just staying disciplined and staying ready for whatever was gonna happen with the league," Doyle said. "There was really nothing that we could do about that in this crazy time. So just staying diligent and working out and staying in shape, so that when we got to training camp, we were ready to go from the start."

In anything resembling normal circumstances, there would at least be some symmetry to the situation. Doyle would be suiting up to play in the arena where her college career ended abruptly, instead of a neutral venue where no one is allowed to leave until the 22-game regular season is complete.

"Not what I pictured," she said, "but honestly I’m just happy and feel blessed for the opportunity. And I’m gonna take advantage of it, no matter where the season is being held."