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Bryan Dougher, the face of the Seawolves

As Bryan Dougher entered his freshman year at Stony Brook University, no one expected much from the scrawny freshman point guard from New Jersey. But then again, no one expected much from Stony Brook basketball either.

Coming off a season in which the team went an abysmal 7-23 finishing last in its conference, the Seawolves brief Division I history had been nothing but comical. Playing as if they were boys amongst men, Stony Brook was at one point ranked 328th out of a field of 328 D-I college programs.

Head coach Steve Pikiell inherited a mess after taking over the program in 2005. Recruiting top tri-state talent proved to be near impossible for the staff, as the team found itself at many times during the offseason picking up scraps left unwanted by many D-I conferences, a major culprit being the Big East.

But Dougher (Scotch Plains, N.J.) changed all that with his commitment to the Seawolves in 2008 turning down offers from numerous Ivy League schools and also from Lafayette College; a school that has had numerous NCAA tournament appearances in the past few seasons. But despite Stony Brook’s thin resume, Dougher said once he met with Coach Pikiell that the decision was a no brainer.

“The coaching staff was a big reason,” Dougher said. “They stressed the importance of my freshman year, they stressed the importance of me playing a lot and helping turn this program around.”

And that’s been the type of player Dougher has been his whole life, the type whose mere presence changes the face of a program. His heroics at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School are still reverberating through the school’s walls. Bryan is the school’s all-time scoring leader with 1,635 points and in his senior year he led his team to its first and only state championship. Scotch Plains-Fanwood basketball coach Dan Doherty considers himself lucky to have coached a player like Bryan.

“Bryan was one of the best players to ever come through Scotch Plains – Fanwood HS, if not the best,” Doherty said. “He started immediately as a freshman. From a coach’s point of view he is a once in a lifetime player. He is everything you wanted as a coach. Hard worker, talented, excellent student and a great role model for the younger players in the program.”

Dougher’s efforts in the state championship game are legendary in New Jersey. Scoring 25 points in the second half, Dougher put his team on his back finishing with a game-high 35 points.

“It was the most amazing display I have ever seen in my 20 years of coaching. He was determined to get us that title,” Doherty said. “One word to describe Bryan would be ‘tenacious.’ He would do anything to win, either at practice or during the game.”

Dougher’s commitment to play at Stony Brook had an immediate impact on the school, transforming it into the type of program it has strived and failed to be for many years. In his freshman year, Dougher started all 30 games for the Seawolves, joining forces with forwards Mohammad El-Amin and Tommy Brenton (Columbia, Md.) to lead SBU to its best finish since rejoining the America East conference in 2001.

A year later, the trio would return to bring Stony Brook basketball to a place it has never been, winning the America East Regular Season Championship and gaining a berth in the famous NIT tournament. Dougher describes this as a moment he will never forget.

But what others will remember is not the season Dougher had, but the season his teammate Mohammad El-Amin had, breaking numerous records and becoming the first Seawolves player to win the conference’s Player of the Year award. In that memorable season Dougher was overshadowed by the senior’s gaudy numbers, his own stats were seen as collateral damage from double and triple teams sent El-Amin’s way. But the 2010-2011 season brought about change, with El-Amin in Turkey and key injuries sidelining upperclassmen,

Dougher was put in a position he had not been in since his days at Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

“It was a little tough, I knew going in I would have to be a leader,” Dougher said. “I would have to take on more of a scoring load.”

And that he has. Dougher has put on a scoring clinic this season scoring in double digits 20 times over the course of the year.

Not only that, Dougher has saved his best games for the big stage, scoring 19 points in a nationally televised game against NCAA powerhouse UCONN, and 20 points in a win against conference juggernaut Maine.

Despite all that, Dougher knows there is always room for improvement. “I’ve got to add more things to my game in order for me to be more of a playmaker and less of a shooter,” Bryan said. “I worked on it last summer and have to continue to work on it this summer, you never stop improving.”

And he hasn’t. The 6-foot-1-inch point guard has improved on his numbers every season since joining the Seawolves bumping up his PPG in each of his first three seasons.

But for a player like Bryan individual success has always taken a backseat to the overall success of his team and that is why this season has been such a disappointment.

Hampered by injuries, the Seawolves have limped through the year barely keeping afloat in the America East.

“It’s been a little disappointing, Dougher said. “We all had higher expectations for ourselves and we haven’t been performing.”

For that Dougher is willing to shoulder much of the blame. Citing that in order for this team to return to form, he and some of the other older players will have to step up and take control. “Our senior class next year with myself, Tommy, Danny, Dallas, and Al need to act like leaders. We need to be the leaders of this team next year,” Dougher said.

But that does not mean he has given up on this season, having set his sights on next weekend’s conference tournament. Winning the tournament will get the Seawolves into the NCAA tournament, something that Dougher hopes to accomplish before the end of his stint at SBU.

Believe it or not, Dougher’s stint at Stony Brook is coming to an end.

With this season almost in the books, the once scrawny freshman from Jersey will enter his senior season next year.

Dougher plans on graduating with a degree in business, but does not want his basketball career to end at Stony Brook. He is hoping to play basketball elsewhere.

Whatever Dougher decides to do, wherever he decides to play, he can always reference future employers to Stony Brook University, a school he took from worst to first, a university that before his arrival was continuously skipped over, not even given a second glance by most. But the blood, sweat, and tears he spilled on the hardwood of Pritchard Gymnasium have given this former laughing stock of a program the respect it deserves, wiping off the smiles of visiting opponents game after game.

“I just want to be remembered as a great player, and as a great friend to all my teammates,” Dougher said. “That’s it. Nothing else.”

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