Originally published July 8, 2011 at 10:58a.m., updated July 9, 2011 at 12:32a.m.
Native Kansan Neil Dougherty, who worked as head basketball coach at Texas Christian University from 2002-08 after seven seasons on Roy Williams’ staff at Kansas University, died Tuesday while jogging in Indianapolis.
He was 50.
“I’m deeply shocked and saddened. He was a great person, a great coach, a great family man, great father, great husband, a true gentleman who loved basketball and working with kids,” current North Carolina coach Williams said Friday night from Akron, Ohio, where he was attending the LeBron James Skills Academy.
“This is something that is so sad. It’s a loss for everybody,” Williams added. “Neil Dougherty was a great asset to Kansas basketball, the university and whole community. Fifty is way too early to have something like this happen. It shows everybody that life is so fleeting. All the things we think are so important are not when facing things like this. I feel so overwhelmed for Patti and the kids.”
Survivors include wife Patti, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas; son Neil, Jr., who lives in South Carolina; daughter, Megan, who lives in Keller, Texas; and son Ryan, a basketball player at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo.
“He was a great coach and one of the finest men I’ve known,” said former KU forward Wayne Simien, who, like Dougherty is a former Leavenworth High basketball standout.
“Coach Dougherty was a man of character and integrity, great husband and father. He did things the right way in every area of life. He was an example for me growing up in Leavenworth. He impacted tons of players.”
Simien, who works in the ministry, spent time with members of Dougherty’s family Friday. Simien fondly recalled the man he played for just one season at KU, but has known most of his life. One of Dougherty’s brothers was married to Simien’s aunt.
“I’ll remember his smile, his laugh,” said Simien, who last saw Dougherty at Simien’s jersey retirement ceremony Jan. 29 in Allen Fieldhouse. “He would not let me settle for less than the best. He’d challenge me to go harder, to give more. It’s how he lived. You could see that in him every day.”
One source close to the family said Dougherty died Tuesday night, after collapsing during a run. Emergency attempts to revive him failed. He was jogging with no identification, so it was impossible for police to identify him until a missing-person report was made Thursday by colleagues at iHoops — a company in Indianapolis where Dougherty worked the last few years. Colleagues identified Neil’s body Thursday night. iHoops is a joint venture between the NBA and NCAA that promotes youth basketball.
“You don’t know what to say, how to explain this. You feel numb,” said SMU coach Matt Doherty, who worked with Dougherty on Williams’ staff at KU. “He was always in great shape. He loved playing basketball at lunchtime. He was such a a good father and husband.
“I’ll remember our late-night conversations, his sense of humor and personality. Neil was quiet initially, but after you got to know him a very funny guy,” Doherty added from the adidas camp in Indianapolis. “He was responsible for a lot of young men coming to Lawrence, Kan., and helped a lot of guys get prepared for careers in the NBA behind the scenes, working with them before pre-draft camps.”
The KU nation was shocked and saddened upon hearing the news.
“He was like a second father to me. He was the reason I was at KU,” said former KU guard Nick Bradford, speaking from Indy, where he was helping coach the KC Pump and Run AAU team.
“Coach Dougherty and his family treated me like family. They made it comfortable for me when I first got to school at 17, 18 years old,” added Bradford, a native of Fayetteville, Ark. “He was a great motivator. There’s not one guy I played with in my career who didn’t like playing for coach D and wouldn’t want to play for coach D.”
Former center Eric Chenowith, an assistant coach at Villa Park (Calif.) High, said: “He was an amazing guy, a family man. I always said this about him: He had one of the great wealths of knowledge of the game of basketball I’ve ever been around. Playing for coach K (Mike Krzyzewski at Army), coaching under coach (Roy) Williams and at Vanderbilt and South Carolina …
“He was a big Chiefs fan and I'm a big Raiders fan. I’d go to his house and watch the games when the Raiders played the Chiefs. We’d talk and just hang out. My heart goes out to his wife and kids.”
Missouri Southern State assistant coach Jeff Boschee became “numb” when he received a text from Bradford on Friday informing him of the news.
“Coach Dougherty was an easy-going guy, always smiling. He made you laugh,” Boschee said. “I remember coach Dougherty was the first one to call me when I was at the Nike camp in Indianapolis (as a prospect out of Valley City, N.D). The biggest thing I remember is he was joking around and made me laugh. He was a great coach. He was so knowledgeable about things the guards could do in the offense.”
North Carolina assistant coach C.B. McGrath, who was sitting next to SMU coach Doherty upon receiving the news at the adidas camp, said: “It’s a tough day for everybody who knew coach Dougherty. He always had a smile on his face and always could put a smile on your face.
“I’ve heard from Nick (Collison), Kirk (Hinrich), Jeff Boschee, Ryan (Robertson), Raef (LaFrentz), Nick (Bradford), Eric (Chenowith), Billy Thomas. We’re all so upset.
“I’d see him two or three times a year on the road recruiting with his job. We’d always like to reminisce. He is a Kansan who loved every second he spent at KU. It was a dream-come-true job-wise.”
Former KU guard Billy Thomas, head coach at Barstow High in Kansas City, said he felt, “complete shock, sadness.
“I was just sitting and thinking about when I first met him. He came to watch me play in the Olympic Festival. We hit it off right away. He was somebody we like to call a players’ coach. He was so laid-back and cool. He’s the one who taught me to slow down playing the game. Watching me at the Festival, he thought there was a bit of rush to what I was doing. He taught me to relax out there.”
Former KU guard Aaron Miles remembers Dougherty and his family making him feel at home. He hails from Portland, Ore.
“My family really appreciated him because my first year here, I would go over to his house many times and eat. I just remember his family was really welcoming of all us freshman on the team,” Miles said. “He may be gone physically from this earth, but he is never forgotten. He is loved and appreciated.”
Former KU guard Ryan Robertson, who works as regional director of investment management for Goldman-Sachs in St. Louis, actually met Dougherty when he was in grade school.
“He started coaching in Lawton, Okla., where I was born and raised. My first basketball camp was led by Neil Dougherty at Cameron University,” Robertson said. “I remember winning ‘Pizza Hut player of the Day’ and him giving me the award.
“Here’s a guy who was absolutely full of life and energetic and lit up a room. It’s tragic and sad, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family now. He was a terrific guy, and I will always have terrific memories of coach Dougherty.”
Funeral services are pending.