Chicago Public School League star and Loyola standout Milton Doyle is fighting for his NBA dream on the Windy City Bulls, where he's averaging 18.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Milton Doyle is the story of the G-league, a kid good enough to dream about the NBA.
"I think I'm with on the cusp of the NBA," the Marshall High School and Loyola product said. "I feel I'm one foot in and one foot out. It's about finding a niche that will get a team to say they want me. I feel I've always had a chance, but there's always been one thing missing or one opportunity I need to help me stay in the league."
The G-league is the stuff of dreams, kids with one eye on the NBA and the other affixed to their circumstances, which is playing before crowds smaller than they did in high school and college, enduring circuitous travel routes with modest accommodations that might insult some AAU teams. But it's also as close to "the Show" as there is in the basketball world.
Most don't make it and scatter to basketball jobs overseas, or just jobs. But there are enough success stories like Chicago's Alfonzo McKinnie, who went from a self-paid tryout with Windy City to the Golden State Warriors and the NBA Finals. The big draft guys skip the NBA's developmental league, but perhaps half the players in the NBA have some G-league experience. Ryan Arcidiacono, undrafted like Doyle and considered a more unlikely pro prospect, spent two years in the G-league with a cameo overseas before signing a three-year contract with the Bulls.
Dreams can come true.
Doyle got his NBA walk on with the Brooklyn Nets last season, 10 games in the fancy hotels, the charter aircraft, someone else to carry your bags and bring you socks. He became the first Loyola player in the NBA in some 30 years. Doyle, though, spent most of last season with the Nets G-league team where the lanky 6-4 guard averaged 20.5 points, five rebounds and 4.4 assists, one of the league's more versatile players.
No less an authority than Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas is a fan.
"He's someone who fills up every column in the box score," Thomas says.
Which is why when Thomas had a sojourn as head coach of Florida International U., he recruited Doyle to help build his program. Doyle was the kind of tough and resourceful city kid Thomas liked. But with Doyle about to start, Thomas was let go after three years. So Doyle's journey took a detour.
It's a variation of the story of many G-league players, talented but undrafted, road blocked along the way and falling between the basketball cracks, like diving out of bounds for a loose ball. They'll put in as much effort, but don't always get quite the results. They are applauded for the effort, but end up deferring to someone else in the spotlight.
"I feel like I have the ability to come off the bench for a team and make plays whether it's scoring or playing defense, getting others involved," Doyle says. "A lot of teams don't have that type of guy to come off the bench with the second group, play with energy and make plays."
It's not about being a star anymore when you're in the G-league, though some who pass through get there. Like the Nets Spencer Dinwiddie. After getting cut by the Bulls, he played for Windy City without any affiliation. These days, G-league teams have two players committed to the NBA parent team. Everyone else can be signed by any NBA team. Dinwiddie played 28 games over three seasons in the G-league. This season he probably will be voted to the NBA All-Star game to be played in the United Center.
So there is reason to believe.
Which is one reason Doyle came back to Hoffman Estates and the Sears Centre this season from Spain, where he could earn more money. It's about the dream, about the NBA, and it's an exceptionally high level of basketball even without the accoutrements.
"It was 10 months in Europe," said Doyle. "That's a long time to be there. There's a short chance to get in the NBA. Once you stay overseas too long you fall off NBA teams' radar. I feel like I have another year or two for the G-league and Summer League to give this a chance."
It's all they ask, and Doyle has the skills.
He's one of the top players for Windy City, a multipurpose guard averaging 18.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds in about 36 minutes per game, second in most categories to D.J. Dozier, who is on assignment from the Nuggets. Doyle shoots a credible 34 percent on threes and 86 percent on free throws and is among the league leaders in steals. Plus, he's had some extraordinary efforts with a 35-point game that included nine threes, six threes in another for 27 points and double digits in assists twice. He's had games with five steals and eight rebounds and Friday with Cristiano Felicio and Chandler Hutchison on assignment from the Bulls, Doyle sought to rally the Bulls late. He led Windy City with 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists and made five of eight threes in the Windy City loss to Wisconsin. Windy City hosts the Westchester team Saturday.
One issue for Doyle is that at 6-4 some teams see him as that infamous tweener, perhaps not adept enough as a point guard and not quite brawny enough for shooting guard.
"I've probably been held back some by my size as far as weight," says the wiry 180 pounder. "Most of the guys, the first thing NBA teams look at is your body and height and you have to have that NBA look. If you look like an NBA player, it gets you a step closer. My body type build makes NBA teams pause. I do try to eat a lot of pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bed, but I play so many minutes it's hard to put on weight in season."
Too skinny. It seems almost un-American.
Doyle finds Daniel Gafford in a preseason game against Indiana.
Doyle's as American as they come, a rare Chicago Public School League star to enroll at Loyola, as roundabout a path as that might have been. He didn't play AAU and transferred from little known Tilden to Marshall. He was injured as a junior, but then made first team all-city and all-state as a senior. He committed to join Thomas in Miami.
"Isiah being a Hall of Fame point guard, a Chicago guy, I felt he could help get me to the next level," said Doyle. "He's been a mentor to a lot of guys. Playing for him would have been a great experience."
Doyle was released from his commitment and the big guys came calling. He enrolled at Kansas and played on an overseas preseason trip as a freshman. But Doyle said he began to realize as a late comer, Kansas wasn't right for him.
"It was a place with guys coming in to play right away and I didn't feel I was one of those guys at the time," Doyle admitted. "I needed somewhere to go and build, make mistakes and be able to grow and come back from them."
It was an unusually mature world view and Doyle enrolled at Loyola, whose once great basketball program had grown fallow. But the academics of the respected North Side university tripped up Doyle to start and he began to think of the rest of his life. Perhaps get down to some nine to five.
His mother, Lisa Green, has been a college basketball and volleyball player at Mississippi Valley State, and she knew her son had more to him. "She said, ‘What are you going to do, work at McDonalds or something like that?'" recalled Doyle. "No offense to McDonald's. She was telling me I had this opportunity not everyone does."
Doyle sat out and then began playing when Loyola left the Horizon for the Missouri Valley Conference. They went 24-13 his second season and he became the first Loyola player to be first team all-conference. He was the first Loyola player invited to the NBA pre-draft Portsmouth camp in a decade and ranked in the program's top 10 all-time in points and assists.
The stability that Doyle, 26, helped provide led to the famed Loyola 2018 NCAA tournament run the season after his graduation with a sociology degree. And the reunions continue as Doyle with 17 points and Bulls two-way player Adam Mokoka led Windy City Wednesday to a victory over the Greensboro Swarm and former teammate Donte Ingram.
"In today's game, there are a lot of analytics and stats to look at, but I feel like at the end of the game you look on the stat sheet and whether offense or defense I'll have something that stands out," Doyle says. "It's just about finding the right place and the right fit."