With 16:40 remaining on the clock last Saturday against Cornell, Fran Dougherty went up for a layup.
Big Red freshman Galal Cancer tried to take a charge, the whistle blew and the ball went into the hoop. For a moment, the Palestra crowd of 3,604 erupted in cheers at Dougherty’s and-one.
But on the way down, Cancer fell back, hitting Dougherty’s leg in the process. The forward spun in the air, instinctively putting his right arm to the ground to try to break his fall. His momentum — and the rest of his 220-pound frame — went in the opposite direction as he fell.
Dougherty was in shock, his body tensing up as he quickly grabbed for his elbow. He couldn’t see the dislocation, but he heard a snap and immediately knew something was wrong.
“I felt my elbow not in the right place,” Dougherty recalled. “It was gross.”
Steve Rennard took one look at his teammate’s elbow and had to turn away toward the bench. Miles Cartwright yelled over for Penn trainer Phil Samko.
Dougherty was taken into the locker room assuming that a team physician would simply put his elbow back into place. But he learned his injury was much more complicated than a simple dislocation.
So he showered, got dressed and tried to process what had just happened. When he returned, he was bandaged from his right bicep down to his hand.
He watched the final minutes of Penn’s 71-69 loss — sealed by Cancer’s game-winner with 10 seconds to go — from the northwest corner of the Palestra, where most wouldn’t see him.
Dougherty didn’t want to raise speculation about his injury.
“I didn’t really know what was going on,” he said. “Because the doctor didn’t really tell me until later that night that I wasn’t going to be able to play for a while.”
The junior has no official timetable for return, because everyone heals from the injury differently.
He won’t require surgery, as the torn ligaments surrounding his elbow will heal on their own with stabilization.
Right now he has extremely limited movement in his elbow, and is not about to risk reinjury by rushing back onto the court before he is ready.
While nothing can be more frustrating than missing a month due to mononucleosis only to return and get injured a game later, the co-captain is doing everything he can to make the most of it.
On the sidelines, Dougherty is experiencing the game from the perspective of his coaches.
“I am seeing what they see … and you see exactly what they want the players to do and why they get frustrated,” he said. “It’s so apparent to me, it’s so clear.”
He admits it can frustrate him too, but Dougherty tries to stay positive and still act as a resource to his teammates, explaining his coaches’ thoughts from a different point of view.
“I try to tell them what’s working in games and what’s not working,” he said. “I try to tell them what I know the coaches want them to do that will make them play more and at a better level.”
Progress has been slow, but after sitting out all but two games since Dec. 29, Dougherty thinks he’s getting through to underclassmen like Darien Nelson-Henry, Tony Hicks and Greg Louis.
“It’s an interaction with me,” Dougherty explained. “When the coach says [something], you don’t argue back with him. You don’t say anything back, you don’t ask certain questions. You just do it. That’s the coach, that’s the way it’s going to be.
“But with me they have more freedom to ask why … They can actually talk to me about it without the coach getting frustrated with them.”
Losing half a season after starting off so strong is not exactly a blessing in disguise, but the junior is making the most of it. That’s all he can do.
Dougherty believes everything happens for a reason, and he is thankful that younger players are getting greater opportunities because he knows it will help out in the long run.
And for now, he’s doing everything he can to help his team from the sidelines.
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