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 college basketball 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-foot-11-inch forward from Atlanta, Ga., is no longer a secret after being honored as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week eight times this season. Doyle is on pace to becoming one of the best players to ever suit up for the Lady Bison, but a glance back into her past shows how she almost never made it to Howard.

Doyle’s journey to Howard 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 outstanding numbers, the teams she played for didn’t win very much. 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 U.S. 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 look at Doyle. Coach Parson followed up and came to see Doyle play, but it was the sport of volleyball, not basketball. Parson did leave with some game tapes of basketball, and 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,” Doyle explained. “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 Niki Reid Geckeler was hired to take over the women’s 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 , 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 mostly comprised of 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.”

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,” Geckeler said. “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.”

Doyle displayed her skills instantly in the season opener against American University by recording a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds, and hasn’t slowed down in production since. To date, she has recorded 17 double-doubles on the season, and posted a career-high 32 points against Maryland Eastern Shore, while grabbing a career-best 22 rebounds against Coppin State.

She’s the top candidate for the MEAC Rookie of the Year award after being selected Rookie of the Week more than anyone else this season. As of press time, she ranks seventh in the country in double-doubles and is 13th in rebounding. She is a strong candidate for all-MEAC honors, a rarity for freshman players in the conference.

While many freshmen hit a “wall” at some point during their first season, Doyle has not only remained consistent, she has actually improved in some areas. She has been virtually unstoppable in the post area and has displayed the ability to hit the short range jump shot on occasion. That’s why the Lady Bison have been one of the surprises, having won three consecutive games and are currently tied for fourth place heading into the MEAC Championship tournament.

“It is almost surreal that I am playing college basketball at this level,” said 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 also credits her 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 three other freshmen starters.

“It is awesome playing with Ziggy,” Doyle said. “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,” Doyle said. “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.”

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 14 games this season, five more than last year.
But the team is not satisfied with what they have accomplished thus far.

“The goal is to make it past the first round,” Doyle said. “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.”


Ed Hill Jr.

Special to the AFRO