Long before he filled up the box score with more than 19 points and nine rebounds per game, Fran Dougherty was the man behind offseason training, organizing workouts for the Penn men’s basketball team.
“If you want to get involved with the Penn big men, you text Fran,” Penn alumnus Steve Danley said. “That’s how I got involved with him, but that’s everybody else too. All the young guys on the team, they kind of follow his lead.”
A 2007 graduate and former Penn forward, Danley has coached Dougherty over the last year, playing an instrumental role in the junior captain’s transformation from cautious sixth-man to assertive superstar.
After averaging just 4.5 points per game last season, the 6-foot-8 forward has emerged as the Quakers’ most potent offensive threat, tallying 19.8 points per contest through Penn’s first six games. In addition, Dougherty has boosted his presence on the boards, grabbing 9.2 rebounds per game compared to four a year ago.
Perhaps the most striking change to Dougherty’s game has been the expansion of his offensive repertoire, which was previously limited to playing in the post.
Now the New Britain, Pa., native can be found on the perimeter, taking his man off the dribble and knocking down midrange jumpers. When the defense slouches inward, he’ll fire from three-point range — last season, he did not attempt a single shot from beyond the arc. And he does it all with top-notch efficiency, hitting at a 57.5 percent rate.
This all comes on the heels of the departure of Zack Rosen, Tyler Bernardini and Rob Belcore, who formed the core of Penn’s squad last season. In many respects, the timing of Dougherty’s metamorphosis is no coincidence.
“We had so many options my first two years here, I didn’t see myself as someone who had to create a play because there were people to do that on the floor,” Dougherty said. “This year is a totally different dynamic.”
While he spent much of the summer of 2011 preparing for the physical rigor of Division I basketball, this summer Dougherty focused on skills work and playing 5-on-5 games.
When it came to improving the technical aspects of his game, Dougherty got an assist from former Penn player Danley.
Also a 6-foot-8 forward, Danley graduated in 2007 before taking on graduate studies as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford. When he returned to Philadelphia for work as a Penn fellow, he approached Dougherty about working out together.
“It was good for him because he got to do some extra work and good for me because I have an excuse to get in the gym and play against guys that are younger, bigger and stronger,” Danley said.
Over the past year, the two Penn forwards worked out together about once a week. Danley often provided instruction and advice to Dougherty, who benefitted not only from Danley’s basketball wisdom, but also from his intensity.
“The main thing with Steve is that he’s probably the biggest competitor I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Dougherty said. “Everything we did was competitive, and there was a winner for it … That’s just the type of personality he has. That’s what he really taught me … to go out there and play your hardest every single possession. It’s not about trying to save yourself.”
A two-time All-Ivy selection and three-time league champion, Danley speaks from experience when he coaches Dougherty as a “big man” playing in the Ancient Eight. Their workouts target areas where a power forward often struggles, including touch and ballhandling.
“As a big guy, you don’t get to handle the ball as much as guards, and it means the ball feels funny the first couple of times you touch it,” Danley said.
Danley also emphasized developing Dougherty’s aggressiveness with the rock in his hands and his ability to create his own shot, which is particularly crucial in light of Rosen’s departure.
“You kind of have to build a different set of habits when you’re going to be the focus of the offense than if you’re going to be a complementary piece,” Danley said.
Dougherty’s work with Danley represented one component in a schedule jam-packed with training over the summer, including three sessions a week with trainer Jim Ferris, who also worked with Zack Rosen. With Ferris, Dougherty improved his “flexibility and motion” while performing plyometric exercises.
What’s more, Dougherty played pickup with players from across the Big 5 throughout the summer, heeding advice from Rosen to play as much 5-on-5 basketball as possible.
“It was pretty much like a job, having Monday through Friday just doing things for basketball at least four hours a day,” Dougherty said of his training regimen.
As Dougherty hones his craft, Penn basketball’s tradition of winning weighs heavily on his mind. Last season represented the fifth consecutive campaign without an Ivy League title. The Quakers have not gone six seasons or more without a conference championship since 1965.
“It really does spark a fire in me. I’ve grown up around Big 5 basketball, and ever since I was little all I remember seeing on Comcast SportsNet when I wake up in the morning was just Penn winning,” Dougherty said. “That’s all I ever knew, was that Penn was always winning.
“I don’t want to leave this place without having [a banner in the Palestra] for a year that I was here. I tried to hold myself accountable to that this past summer.”
Though Dougherty’s long hours in the gym have paid off for his individual game, the team has sputtered to a 1-5 start, including narrow losses in their last three contests.
“There also comes a responsibility of pushing your teammates too, and that’s what I’m really figuring out right now,” Dougherty said. “The most important thing is that you have to hold yourself accountable, but you also have to hold your teammates accountable. Once that happens and once that clicks for the leaders on the team, it’s going to be a complete turnaround.”
With the transformation of his own game complete, Dougherty will now take on the task of helping the rest of the program follow in his footsteps.