By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Few devotees of high school basketball in the Central Mass. region are unfamiliar with Marlborough High School (MHS) center Chris Doherty who is on a pace to achieve great things in his high school basketball career.
Last season, his first on varsity hardwood, Doherty led his team to a berth in the Division 2 state championship game that was won by undefeated Danvers High in a 52-49 thriller at Worcester’s DCU Center. He averaged 15.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.8 shots blocked per game and was named Worcester T & G Hometeam Magazine Player of the Year as well as a member of various Central Mass. and all-state select teams. Opposing coaches vary their typical game strategies in shutting down or at least containing him, but few seldom succeed. This season, Doherty has been slowed some due to injury but still has averaged a robust 14.7 points per game in leading the Panthers to a 13-4 record, currently tops in Midland B.
But few may know about this talented and likable student-athlete beyond what meets the eye when he is on court doing the things that he does that often stun spectators with his ability to control the floor and dominate like not many others can. At 6-foot-8-inches, Doherty is a presence both on the court and off. For sure, he is all business in discussing the sport he has embraced but occasionally flashes a humorous side as well.
“I’m a typical kid,” said Doherty smiling in a recent one-on-one interview. “I like to watch football, hang out with my friends and just do what kids my age do. I’m kind of a hyper kid, actually, but when it comes down to supporting my teammates and my team, it’s all business.
“The attention never gets to my head, honestly. I’ve learned to play around it,” he said of the adulation and notoriety he receives repeatedly. “It takes time to get used to it and I feel like I’ve gotten used to it more. At the beginning of the season it was a little different in that there were triple teams. Last year I didn’t see that as much and this year I’m getting used to it.
“You can’t let things get to your head like the media which can be intense and the crowds at away games too. You have to stay positive so if you have a bad game you can’t get down on yourself. Never let the little things get to your head.”
One aspect of his style of play that Doherty stresses which is amplified loud and clear by MHS head coach Bryan Riley is unselfishness and a team-first attitude.
“Chris is an extremely unselfish player. He’ll do anything to help the team even if that means sacrificing himself,” said Riley. “That’s one thing about him that separates him from the good players and the great players. He’s one of the best passers and rebounders that I’ve ever seen and wants to pass so much and get his teammates involved. Sometimes, though, we have to yell at him and tell him to shoot because he’s such a great shooter but that’s just the way he is.
“Off the court, he’s just a regular guy and does the things that kids his age do but when he crosses the line and steps onto the court you can see his ferocity in how he approaches the game.”
The sting from the 2015 playoff loss still remains in the hearts and minds of Doherty and his teammates and clearly anything less than a state championship next month will be a disappointment. But to Doherty, the zeal to win is for all the right reasons. Loyalty to his city and his teammates is first and foremost in his goals.
“I want to win so badly for Marlborough,” said Doherty with conviction. “They’ve never had a state championship and last year we were one possession away from winning it all. But the main thing I want to do is win for the city of Marlborough.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder this year coming in with high hopes. Although the game can get to us sometimes mentally, you try to forget about it but you can’t always forget about it. It’s always in the back of your mind. I keep remembering all the work it took to get there. But we have to remember what got us so far last year and keep it in the back of our heads, but we can’t think of that right now.”
Asked near repeatedly by those who support the team is what the team is like when Doherty is not on the court. The Panthers found out midway through the season when Doherty was sidelined with injury and missed four games. The team went 2-2 in that span.
“It’s tough to adjust a game plan when you don’t have the best player in the state and that’s what I think he is,” Riley said. “It’s different when he’s not out there and the margin of error changes. But we have a very talented team and I think we showed it when he was out with an injury this season. Chris is our leader on the court but he’s not our entire team.”
“Not having Chris on the court is a big difference offensively and defensively,” admitted teammate Jose De La Cruz. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of players who can light it up. Everyone came to play with energy, but we did miss Chris.”
“I feel like they actually got better when I was out,” Doherty said. “They weren’t relying on me and since I’ve been back we’ve had two 30-point wins and you can tell we’re playing a lot better right now. This is an important time right now with the playoffs coming up. We’re just trying to click as best we can.”
With two more years of high school basketball remaining after this season, Doherty is focused clearly on his contributions to the Panthers, but does have long term goals that include a collegiate career, perhaps and likely, some say, in Division 1. The wheels in that regard are already turning.
“I want to play college and where that takes me, who knows?” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of coaches and my AAU coach has talked to coaches. But I’m not really focusing on that right now. I’m focused on winning for my school.”