Written by Edward Hill, Jr./Attributions by Ariel V. Germain
WASHINGTON, D.C. (www.howard-bison.com) – February 20 – When Howard University senior Saadia Doyle walks out on the court for the pre-game warm ups, it is hard to tell that she is one of the top women's basketball players in the country at first glance. There is nothing overwhelming or special about her physical build that sets her apart from her teammates or other players.
But make no mistake, once the game starts you quickly find out that Doyle is no ordinary women's basketball player and is in fact, she one of the top players in the country. At 5-11, the red-shirt senior guard that hails from Atlanta, Ga., was named the 2012-13 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Pre-Season Player of the year.
To grasp more appreciation for Doyle and her accomplishments, we need to take a journey in time to discover the path that led her to a stellar career at Howard University.
As a Columbia High School volleyball and basketball student-athlete, Doyle was not highly recruited. In fact, she did not have single collegiate scholarship offer. Then along came Cathy Parson, the former head women's basketball coach at Howard. And in spite of her title, Parson went to Doyle during one of her volleyball matches. Doyle would end of signing with Howard in November 2008.
"The reason I signed was because I liked the fact that here were people there at Howard who looked like me and who I could relate to," said Doyle. "The University has a rich history in academics and I liked the feel. It felt homey; it wasn't too small or too large. A place where I could grow and feel comfortable."
Despite her success, that summer two events occurred that would go on to have a dramatic impact on Doyle and her potential future at Howard. Doyle suffered a knee injury and Howard moved in a different direction in relation to the direction of the women's basketball program by hiring current head coach Niki Reid Geckeler.
Doyle was placed in a predicament no student-athlete wants to face, especially a freshman; coming off an injury and proving you deserve a place on a team with a new coach, who didn't recruit you.
"After looking at it, I decided that I would make the best out of the situation," reflected Doyle. "I worked hard during my rehab sessions and by the spring I was able to work out with the team. I had already used the year sitting out to scout the team and get a feel for what they do and how I could fit in. I knew it would be a hard transition, going from high school to having the injury and trying to fit in. But all I wanted was a chance to prove myself. I kept telling myself that I was not going to rush anything and to just work hard and take advantage of the chance when it presented itself."
The following season, Geckeler began to assemble her team with measured expectations. Little did Geckeler or anyone know that she had inherited a player that would be the key piece to kick start Geckeler's program at Howard.
Doyle began putting up numbers from her initial tip-off, finishing second in the country with 21 double doubles and 14th nationally in rebounds. Along with her individual success, she helped her team to 16 wins. Her accomplishments earned her the 2009-10 MEAC Rookie of the Year honor.
"At first, my goal was to contribute as much as I could and maybe become a starter by conference time," explained Doyle. "But then things began to happen quickly for me. I started the first game and then I was named Rookie of the Week once, then a second time, and then a third time and I realized that something special was happening. I had thought that it would be a difficult transition, but I think the hard work during rehab and getting a feel for the team helped make it easier than I had thought."
Rather than rest on her laurels from the success of her rookie season, Doyle worked hard in the off season and developed her all-around game. Playing at the forward position at that time, Doyle's primary game was either driving to the basket or getting second chance opportunities off offensive rebounds. But she slowly began to expand her game to include a medium-range shot, stronger ball handling and higher basketball IQ.
"I adopted a self-scouting plan," she revealed. "At the end of each year, I would go back and see how teams played me and what they were able to take away from my game. I worked to improve those areas by working on taking 80 shots in my workouts and putting pressure on myself to make 85 percent of them. It was challenging at first because it would sometimes take me up to two hours. But I got it down to a science so that it only took 30 to 45 minutes to complete."
Doyle went on to explain her workout, stating, "I do a 6 a.m. run, where I use interval training. I also spend a lot of time in the weight room. It helps me become stronger as the game progresses and that is when I can become more effective."
Her rigorous off-season workout program, dedication, hard work to her craft and consistent play has allowed Doyle to start 120 games during her career to date, while averaging 34.2 minutes of action. She also has 64 career double doubles to date.
Doyle is what coaches like to refer to as a "character" player. With all her success and perseverance, she still remains humble off the court while maintaining a focused demeanor on the court. You will not see Doyle complaining about referee calls or becoming frazzled when she is fouled too hard as often happens since she is the primary focus of defenders.
What makes her so difficult to defend is her ability to diversify her game. She has a great first step that often surprises her opponents, especially those who have a decided height or size advantage. This is extremely evident when she takes on Top 25 programs and excels tremendously, including her career-best 36 points at No. 8 Penn State this past November.
"Saadia has been one of the forces that has turned this program around the past three years," said Coach Geckeler, who has guided the program to back-to-back tournament title games and a record-tying 24 wins last season. "Her ability to score and rebound is phenomenal. She has a great work ethic that should be an example to young players as to how hard work pays off."
With the regular-season coming to a close and the conference tournament right around the corner, Doyle has a significant milestone to add to her growing resume. On Monday, Feb. 18 in Daytona Beach, Fla., Doyle made history. The Atlanta native is now the all-time leading scorer in the MEAC and at Howard, a record held by former HU standout Alisha "Tuff" Hill (1994-98). Doyle now has 2,197 points and 1,125 rebounds. She is third on the all-time list for career rebounds behind former Lady Bison Darlene Beale and Andrea Gardner.
Hill, who Doyle met for the first time at the athletic awards banquet following her freshman year, is one of her biggest supporters.
"She (Hill) told me that she was going to be there when I break her record," recalled Doyle. "She said that it should be expected by me. To be honest, it put some pressure on me at that time. Not bad pressure, but good pressure. I felt that I had to meet those expectations or I would be letting her down."
"I couldn't think of a better player and person to break the record," said Hill, a member of both the Howard and MEAC Hall of Fame. "She is truly deserving of this accomplishment. I am very proud of her."
The Health Education and Childcare major outlines her short-term and long-term goals: "If the opportunity comes for me to play professionally in the WNBA or overseas, I am going to take it," she said. "But if don't make a roster, it is not going to be a big setback. I would like to teach secondary level high school for a while and ultimately open a health and wellness facility. My vision is that it will be a one-stop shop, with a clinic for Planned Parenthood, a gym, meditation, and yoga classes."
As her career winds down at Howard, Doyle admits that she never envisioned these accomplishments.
"When I started this journey five years ago, I never imagined that all of this would happen for me," she reflected. "I guess it won't really hit me until years from now when I have gotten away from the game completely."
In closure, Doyle hopes that when people recall her time as a student-athlete, people will say, "That Saadia Doyle made things happen."