Character study

Veteran guard Dooling has earned league-wide respect

By Truman Reed

Keyon Dooling

"I'm as hungry as I've ever been. I'm excited to get back to winning, first of all," Dooling said.
Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

The National Basketball Association has its share of true characters.

Its population also includes some special individuals who possess true character.

Of the two qualities, the latter is the one the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind July 19, 2010, when they signed 10-year NBA veteran Keyon Dooling to a free-agent contract.

The Bucks brass certainly took other factors into consideration, too, before making the decision to bring aboard the former University of Missouri star.

Milwaukee management realized the need for a proven performer to fill the vacancy left when Luke Ridnour signed a free-agent deal with the Timberwolves after enjoying the best year of his NBA career in 2009-10 with the Bucks.

"Keyon, we feel, is very good," Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles said. "I would never undersell Luke and what he gave us. The guy was unreal for us in both years. He was very good in the locker room. He worked hard. He did everything we asked. He had a great year last year.

"But Keyon has been a very good off-the-bench guard. He's got length, he's got athleticism, he's a very good defender and he can make threes."

The character element did not become part of Dooling's resume by accident.

"It's extremely important," Dooling said. "I've been in a lot of different situations. I've had the opportunity to play with a lot of veteran guys, so I've learned leadership. I had a chance to be a follower for a long time. You learn great lessons, like how to lead.

"The character guys we have will not only be a positive within the organization, but within the whole city as well."

Former Wauwatosa East High School and University of Wisconsin star Devin Harris, a teammate of Dooling's with the New Jersey Nets during the past two NBA seasons, credited Dooling with helping him develop into an NBA All-Star in 2009.

After signing on with Milwaukee, Dooling was excited about the opportunity to work in similar fashion with second-year Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings.

"If Devin said that, hopefully I can do the same thing for `B.J.,'" Dooling said. "I try to get into my guys. I try to push them every day in practice. I try to challenge them on and off the court.

"And then I'm a friend to them. I'm willing to go to battle with them, and I think they respect that."

Dooling became known as a battler during his two seasons at Missouri, where he became an instant difference-maker.

He averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 1998-99 and was the runner-up in the Big XII Conference Freshman-of-the-Year voting. He also earned all-conference honorable mention.

Dooling earned second-team all-Big XII accolades as a sophomore after leading Mizzou in scoring, assists and blocked shots. He was named the Tigers Most Outstanding Player.

Dooling became an early entry candidate for the 2000 NBA Draft and was selected by the Orlando Magic with the 10th overall pick in the first round. His draft rights were traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, and he spent his first four NBA seasons with the Clippers.

The Florida native was signed as a free agent by his home state Miami Heat on July 22, 2004 and played one season with the Heat before inking another free-agent deal with his other home state team, the Magic, on Aug. 3, 2005. He wore an Orlando uniform for three seasons, averaging a then career-best 9.4 points per game in 2005-06.

The 6 foot-3 inch, 195-pound guard was acquired from Orlando by the Nets for cash considerations on July 21, 2008 and spent the past two seasons with New Jersey, scoring a career-high 9.7 points per outing in 2008-09.

Dooling came to the Bucks with 29 career playoff games under his belt, but his most recent playoff experience came with Orlando in 2008. When he arrived in Milwaukee to begin his first camp with the Bucks, he expressed excitement about the prospect of turning a page in his career.

Dooling and fellow Bucks acquisition Chris Douglas-Roberts spent the past two seasons as teammates with New Jersey. They endured a lot of hard times together as the Nets went 34-48 in 2008-09 before tumbling to a 12-70 finish in 2009-10.

"I was excited when I learned I was coming here," he said. "I'm as hungry as I've ever been. I'm excited to get back to winning, first of all. Coming from New Jersey, winning is very important to me. I'll do whatever it is I need to do. I know myself, Corey (Maggette) and Drew (Gooden) came from teams that really didn't win very often, so it's a great opportunity for us to get back in that win column.

"Obviously the team was good without me being on the roster. So just to have an opportunity to come from the situation I was in last year to a legitimate contender is exciting for me. I've played with a few of these guys before, so that's exciting as well. It should be good for me and it should be fun for us."

Dooling also looked forward to playing for Skiles, who guided the Bucks to a 20-game improvement over the course of his first two seasons as Milwaukee's head coach.

"Just from the outside looking in, I saw that even when Coach Skiles was in Chicago, the way his teams played was a testament to the coach," Dooling said "Every team he's coached has always played hard, has always played together, has always been well-coached.

"I'm excited to get the opportunity to learn from him."

Through action of December 12, Dooling was one of just four Bucks who had appeared in all 22 of the team's games. In 15.6 minutes per outing, he was averaging 4.4 points and 1.8 assists a game. His best outing came November 24 in an 83-81 loss at Cleveland, where he scored a team- and season-high 18 points and handed out five assists.

With seven newcomers on their roster this season, the Bucks were still working to develop chemistry as the campaign neared mid-December. They have been working hard in an attempt to achieve the level of offensive proficiency they attained during their run to the playoffs in 2009-10.

Dooling is one of several Bucks whose shooting and scoring numbers are below his career norms, but he has been around the NBA block enough times to know the importance of perseverance and persistence.

"The defense has been good," Dooling said. "Offensively, we've been struggling. We've got a lot of guys who aren't shooting the ball well, myself included. Offensively, none of us are playing up to our potential, possibly with the exception of Brandon. We've just got to get a few more guys to get it going. We're defending so well that if we scored some points, we'd be able to make things happen.

"No doubt we've got to have the defense first. Defense is the key. Offensively, eventually, it will work itself out." And when it comes to work, the Bucks know they can count on Keyon Dooling.