Notre Dame Basketball

Grandfather Helps Fuel Chris Doherty's Passion

May 10, 2018
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Whether it’s elevating above the rim for a rebound, hustling down the court for a chase-down block or leaping for an emphatic dunk, the little things on the court are what Chris Doherty does best. 

Stats aren’t atop the Massachusetts forward’s priority list, winning is the main objective for the slender-built, long-armed, small-town kid, who stands 6 feet, 8 inches and weighs in at 235 pounds. 

Doherty’s senior-year statistics at Marlborough High School are certainly eye-popping – 19.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 3.1 assists – but he wouldn’t be able to rattle those numbers off the top of his head. 

“In a way I am like Dennis Rodman, I love to rebound,” Doherty expresses with passion. “I don’t care if I score 20, 30 points, I would rather have 20 rebounds. 

“I will bring toughness and rebounding, and the little things on the court.”

Doherty’s grandfather, Peter Paul, played basketball back in his day, although he acknowledges “not very well.”

“I am 5-foot-6, not very tall,” Paul says. “But with Chris I have seen him for four years in high school and with him, he wants to win and he is going to whatever it takes.”

Paul saw that on display when Doherty notched his 1,000th-career point during his senior season.

“They wanted to stop the game and give him the basketball,” Paul recalls. “But he said, ‘No way, I want to win this game.’”

The milestone wasn’t properly acknowledged until after his squad had secured a one-point win that night.

Doherty points to his grandfather for having an immense impact on his life and refers to him as a father figure.

“My mom and I lived with my grandparents for like 10 to 15 years,” Doherty explains. “We have always been close, always joking around. He is an important person in my life.”

Watching his own father struggle with addiction forced Doherty to learn how to channel negativity into positivity.

“He is there and tries to be, but my grandfather has always been there,” Doherty says.

“It is tough, but it happens, you just have to deal with it. People say I am mentally strong and on the basketball court, my anger will come out, but off the court, I don’t let it affect me.”

Doherty was tested when a back injury forced him to miss his junior season.

The 3-star forward could’ve given up, but through the support of his family and his New England Playaz AAU organization – specifically director TJ Gassnola and head coach John Carroll – along with his own desire to persevere, Doherty came back stronger than ever.

“When I got hurt, some people wrote me off, but (Carroll) and TJ stuck with me,” Doherty expresses. “They could’ve easily turned the other way and found someone else, but they stayed loyal and believed in me, which was key.”

That loyalty meant a tremendous amount to the youngster.

“TJ is really big in my life,” Doherty says. “He had similar problems growing up, so he was always there to talk. It is nice to have him there.”

You know who he is? He is Dave Cowens.
- TJ Gassnola

Doherty employed laser focus as he fought to return from the injury. His primary goals were getting his body ready for the next level and developing his game.

“Prior to getting injured I would lift, but not consistently,” he remembers. “I was young, but when I got hurt, it was a good thing because I put more emphasis on hitting the gym with strength and conditioning.”

Playing for a national AAU program such as the Playaz gave Doherty the opportunity to prove himself on the highest stage following his injury.

“It is the best in the country that you’re playing against, but with Coach Carroll he coached with the Celtics, he is a helluva coach and knows his stuff,” Doherty states. “I played some of the best players like David McCormack, Nassir Little, EJ Montgomery, probably lottery picks in a year, so it is definitely different than playing in high school, but the different aspects help you.”

Starting in March, Doherty was on the road for tournaments pretty much every weekend and was gone the entire month of July.

Carroll believes the schedule and the opposition were critical to Doherty’s development.

“He is bigger and stronger than anyone he had ever played against, so last summer was first time he played on the AAU circuit at the highest level full time,” Carroll explains.

“That is where he saw the best competition that he has seen in his high school years.”

After missing the entire winter season, Doherty had some kinks to work out early on the AAU tour, but once he caught up with the speed and athleticism of the game, the flashes of his true potential began to show.

“It took him about half the summer to figure it out, but when he did, he was a dominant rebounder, defender and low-post player against some of the best players in the country,” Carroll says.

Gassnola agrees “the first week was rough.”

“The practice was easy because he didn’t have to play against anybody and in the first couple of games, his confidence was a little down, but I think he knew how much confidence I had in him,” Gassnola adds. “Then by the third week in Atlanta, John and I were like, ‘Woah.’ He would get a rebound a foot above the rim and run the floor.

“You know who he is? He is Dave Cowens. From the videos I see of Cowens, that’s him. Relentless.”

Gassnola recognized Doherty’s potential even before his AAU outbreak.

“Chris has been in my program since he was a freshman in high school,” Gassnola says. “I watched him in eighth grade and we scouted him pretty good. He played on my sophomore teams as a freshman.

“His shoulders, his length in his arms, his knack to get a ball, he had the instincts to get a rebound. They didn’t know how to play him, but you could see when the ball was going up he was going to get it, when the ball was around, he was going to finish at the rim. You could just see he was going to grow, he was maybe 6-foot-4, but you could see he was going to grow and we were right.”

Still, immediately upon returning from the injury, Doherty’s AAU coaches pondered the idea of him reclassifying into the 2019 class, which would give him an additional year to develop and prove he belonged on the major college basketball stage.

But toward the end of last year, the big man decided he was ready for college and interest began to brew from many major programs, including Virginia, Arizona, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Rhode Island, Boston College and UMass.

But one school showed interest early and never backed off, even when he was injured. That school was Notre Dame and when the Irish learned he’d be available as a prospect in the 2018 class, they pounced.

“The coaches were talking to me, but not really because they thought I was going 2019,” he says. “Then in September, I decided to go 2018 and coaches started to call, but Notre Dame had been there since the start.”

Doherty took an official visit to South Bend the first weekend of November. Initially, he planned to follow that trip up with officials to other schools, but saw enough and felt comfortable enough at Notre Dame to commit to the Irish a couple of weeks later.

He is going to play with energy, which is going to make everyone else play with energy. He is a sponge to be coached. Mike Brey and his staff are going to enjoy that.
- TJ Gassnola

Over the last five years, Gassnola and Doherty’s bond grew beyond basketball.

“One of the reasons Chris and I joke so much and one of the reasons why I bleed for that kid is because he was me,” Gassnola acknowledges. “I grew up with a broken home.

“All I wanted for him was to go to college. It would drive me nuts when he wasn’t playing, it would drive me crazy when he was home. I just couldn’t fathom him never reaching his potential, so seeing where all this went and knowing how proud he was going to make his grandfather of him, Chris is at a good place in his life.”

Making his grandfather proud and having him at all the major events pf his life are among Doherty’s biggest priorities. Gassnola encouraged Doherty to go the prep school route, but Doherty’s loyalty kept him at Marlborough High School.

“That was something that was important to me,” Doherty says. “Coming from Marlborough, it is a sports town, but it’s not a big city. It’s an average town you could say, but we take pride in everything.”

“He wanted his grandfather at all of his games, he wanted to win a state championship for his grandfather, and he wanted to graduate for his grandfather,” Gassnola adds.

On his visit to South Bend, Doherty was sure to bring back a Notre Dame hat for his grandfather. Paul wears it with pride every day.

“We were at lunch today and the host came up to me and asked me about the hat,” Paul remembers fondly. “I said my grandson is going there for basketball.”

Doherty will dedicate his play to his grandfather with the number he wears for the Irish.

“The host asked me what his number is going to be and I said, ‘His number is going to be 15, the month and day of my birthday,’” says Paul, whose birthday is January 5th.

“He is a great kid. I hope he enjoys his four or five years there.”

Gassnola believes Irish fans are in for a treat with #15 in the coming years.

“He competes at a high level,” he says. “He is going to be a three-year starter at Notre Dame. They’re going to have a tough time keeping him off the court.”

Gassnola points to Doherty’s energy and effort levels.

“One of the hardest things now in college sports is to get players to play with high energy,” he says. “Chris is a great kid and has a great smile, so when he walks into the locker room, win, lose or draw, he is going light up the room.

“He is going to play with energy, which is going to make everyone else play with energy. He is a sponge to be coached. Mike Brey and his staff are going to enjoy that. He is going to challenge the other players to play with his level of intensity.”

But while Doherty’s grandfather also looks forward to his grandson’s career on the court at Notre Dame, he’s most excited about what comes at the end.

“I can’t wait until the day his name is called and he goes and gets that piece of paper.”

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