Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

Fond memories abound for TCU’s Dougherty

Success coming slowly for Leavenworth native, former KU assistant

December 9, 2004

— Neil Dougherty figures he might become a bit disoriented tonight after walking through the southwest tunnel onto the Allen Fieldhouse floor.

"I keep thinking I'm going to wander over to the other bench," said Dougherty, Texas Christian University's third-year basketball coach.

For seven seasons he had a seat reserved next to Roy Williams on the bench with the University of Kansas' men's basketball team but will be occupying the visitors' pine during the 8 p.m. nonconference contest between the 5-2 Horned Frogs and 4-0 Jayhawks.

It'll be the 43-year-old Leavenworth native's first visit to Allen Fieldhouse in three seasons, since he left KU take over the program at TCU.

"I like being in the fieldhouse with no one there - just playing pick-up - much less when it's full," said Dougherty, a member of the 'Lunch Bunch,' group that played noon pick-up ball up to five days a week during his years as a Jayhawk assistant.

"It was one of the great things about being at KU. You looked forward to noon," Dougherty noted. "It'd be 11:15, 11:30, I'd walk down the hall and say to Ben Miller, Jerod Haase, Matt (Doherty) before he hurt his knee, 'Are you playing? Are you playing?' It broke up the day."

Dougherty, an all-state guard at Leavenworth High who went on to play college ball at both Army and Cameron University - KU didn't recruit him - was a noonball star.

"It all depended if I was on Bud's (Stallworth, former KU legend) team or not," Dougherty said, asked about how many points he'd score on a given day. "If I was on Bud's team I passed to Bud. If I was on the other team I'd shoot. There's probably a time I scored every point if I wasn't on Bud's team," he added, laughing.

Several Lunch Bunchers figure to be in the stands today, plus Dougherty's parents and other family members. Dougherty's own son, TCU sophomore and former Free State High standout Neil, is a guard for the Horned Frogs.

Playing for Kansas will be a batch of players Dougherty thinks of as family - the seniors he recruited, coached a year and visited with during the Jayhawks' 85-66 win over the Frogs last Dec. 1 in Fort Worth, Texas.

"After thumping us, they hugged me," Dougherty said of Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee, plus Keith Langford and Jeff Hawkins, who exploded for a 24 and 19 points in the game.

"All those guys were our 'Baby Hawks,''' Dougherty said of the four seniors and fourth-year junior Hawkins, who were freshmen during the 2001-02 season - Dougherty's last at KU.

"I'd tell them, 'All you have to do is play hard this year. You'll never be blamed if we lose. Guys like Gooden, Hinrich, Collison will be blamed,''' Dougherty said. "We made a deal that the older guys were a blanket and the 'Baby Hawks' got to stay under the comfort of the blanket.

"Keith came over during last year's game, looked at me and said, 'Coach, we're the blanket now.' Things like that make the college game special."

Fort Worth native Langford hit nine of 10 shots against his dear friend Dougherty's team.

"Coach D is the reason I'm here. He got me up here to the cornfields then bounced on me," Langford said with a laugh. "I love that guy. I don't have any complaints."

Dougherty has a special place in his heart for KU senior Simien.

"Of course Wayne. He's the second best player to ever come out of Leavenworth High School," quipped Dougherty, like Simien a former Leavenworth Pioneer. "He's playing nearly perfect basketball. I have special feelings for him."

Back at ya, Simien says.

"Coach D ... he's my guy. Our relationship extends far beyond basketball," Simien said. "He's a Leavenworth guy. I grew up around him and his family.

"I hated to see him go after one year but love to see him doing so well."

Dougherty looks fondly on his hometown.

"Leavenworth will always be my home. I'm a graduate from high school there. My high school coach was Bob Knoll. He lives in Plano, Texas, now. He is here with me (at TCU) all the time. I tease and joke with him, but seriously, I am a 43-year-old and I want to make him proud every day. In Leavenworth, if you had a chance to be a player under Bob Knoll you were elite."

Dougherty and Simien are two of Leavenworth's proudest Jayhawks.

"If you grew up in Kansas, it's part of you," Dougherty said of KU. "Colorado has the mountains; Kansas has the Jayhawks."

So much in love with KU, Dougherty waited for just the right opportunity before accepting his first head coaching job.

"I could have stayed forever and been thrilled," Dougherty said. "When jobs would open, I'd tell coach Williams, 'I'm in no big rush. I'm in the No. 1 college basketball waiting room in America.' It had to be the right situation for me to move and I think that's TCU."

Dougherty's Frogs, who defeated Marquette twice and Louisville once last year, finished 12-17 overall and 7-9 in Conference USA after going 9-19, 3-13 his first year. This year, the Frogs are 5-2 with good wins over Texas Tech and Florida State.

"It was huge for the people here and fun for our guys to know what it means to win a big game," Dougherty said of the 83-68 Nov. 23 home win against Tech before a packed house.

"We feel we've got a competitive team. This is the first year we have 13 scholarship athletes able to play. We caught up with the 5-8 rule, which was a terrible rule. We finally have a full roster and I think we've got a pretty good team."

Not a great team yet.

"We are not at the stage (where) we are going to win every game," Dougherty said. "We can learn some things from losses. We've had some good wins but not many follow-up wins. We've got to learn to deal with being happy with the moment and going back to work quickly. We're still learning. We're still growing. We're trying to build a good basketball program."

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