Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Dougherty takes torch for young Quakers Penn team

WITH A STATISTICAL transformation as large as this, you might expect a bit more surprise surrounding Fran Dougherty's emergence as Penn's top scorer and rebounder.

WITH A STATISTICAL transformation as large as this, you might expect a bit more surprise surrounding Fran Dougherty's emergence as Penn's top scorer and rebounder.

But given the effort the 6-8 forward put forth in the offseason leading to his junior season, that's not exactly the case.

"I'm not really surprised with how he's started," teammate Miles Cartwright says. "He worked really hard. He's still just working hard every day. He's just trying to improve and make sure what he's shown so far is consistent. He's definitely been consistent so far."

Says fourth-year head coach Jerome Allen: "I will say it got to the point where we started to expect it. Not so much expect it in numbers, but expect it in effort and the confidence and the determination on both ends. To his credit, he put the work in this summer."

The numbers are staggering, a tangible sign of possibly the most improved college player in the city. Six weeks after he was not even mentioned in any media outlet's preseason all-Ivy League teams, Dougherty leads the league in rebounding and is six-tenths of a point shy of leading the league in scoring. His 15.4 points per game are more than triple his average from last season, while his average of 8.8 rebounds more than doubles his 2011-12 rate.

After two seasons as a complementary player to Zack Rosen, Tyler Bernardini and Rob Belcore, Dougherty has provided Penn with an inside presence to complement Cartwright. And though the Quakers (2-7) - without a senior on the roster and with several freshmen logging quality minutes - are working through growing pains in the early part of the season, Dougherty has taken advantage of an increased responsibility.

"I knew I had to step up into a bigger role, now that Zack, Rob and Tyler were gone," he says. "There were just a lot more opportunities for shots to get up on the floor. It is a good feeling that I can take these shots this year and step up into a leadership role."

By all accounts, Dougherty's improved play can be attributed in part to his offseason work. Bring up his name around anyone inside Penn's program and everyone raves about his great summer, when he further committed himself to conditioning and the weight room and spent time in the gym on skill work.

He got up a ton of shots, working on extending his range to the three-point line in preparation for five games in Belgium, Germany and France for a college travel team he played on with Cartwright.

As simple as it sounds, he just played all the time, following advice in a long talk at the end of last season with Rosen, the Ivy and Big 5 player of the year last season.

Call it a proverbial passing of the torch.

"Guys miss that part these days," Rosen, who now plays professionally in Israel, says in an email to the Daily News. "The game is still played five-on-five, and the more situations you see and reps you get, the more comfortable and confident you get out there. So I think Fran did the work on his body and played a whole lot. Simple formula that's working out for him."

Dougherty's range, which harkens back to his days as a 5-10 guard when he began playing at Archbishop Wood, is one of the biggest differences in his game this season. Rarely in his first two seasons at Penn did he take a jump shot outside of 15 feet. This year, with defenders having to account for him out to the three-point line, he's tougher to guard.

"He's already 6-8 and he's strong as a bull," Cartwright says. "It makes it a lot easier for us to play off of him."

Dougherty's career high in points entering the season was 14, a mark he has eclipsed in five of Penn's first nine games. In a Nov. 13 loss to Fairfield, he scored 31 points, 17 more than the next-highest total among the players, a performance that helped earn Ivy League Player of the Week honors.

"Honestly," Rosen says, "I'm not surprised at all. We started to see signs after his freshman year and into his sophomore year that he was 'getting it.' The guy works hard and puts the time in.

"The best thing that happened to Fran was that guys like Rob and myself graduated. Now he has to assume responsibility, make plays, be a focal point . . . "

But being a focal point comes with its challenges, especially when opposing coaches see Dougherty's improved play on video. In a recent loss to Villanova, Dougherty had a tough time finding open looks against the Wildcats' big men, who packed the middle any time he caught the ball near the paint. Dougherty, who also battled foul trouble, never got into a rhythm and finished with season lows in points (two), shots (three), rebounds (three) and minutes (19).

But if Dougherty's production through a quarter of the season is a reflection of things to come, Ivy League opponents will have their hands full.