Matt Doherty still lives in North Carolina, where he experienced his most visible successes and setbacks as a player and coach. But everything that came after was shaped in large part in Prospect Park in East Meadow.
It was where he learned lasting lessons about basketball and life, so much so that in his new book, "Rebound: From Pain to Passion – Leadership Lessons Learned," a picture of the park’s entrance is captioned, "gates to heaven."
Late afternoon pickup games there were so important to him he gave up his job delivering Newsday, an afternoon newspaper at the time, and switched to a morning Daily News route.
"It was about the ethos of Prospect Park, the meritocracy," Doherty said in an interview to promote the book. "They didn’t care if you’re Black, didn’t care if you’re white, didn’t care if you’re Hispanic. If you can help the team win, you got on the court."
He started as a tween, playing against high school and college players, learning to be a role player at first because that was the only way to justify his participation.
Over time he learned the game’s nuances, how to follow instructions, how to negotiate and how to lead.
"You learn how to compete," he said. "You learn how to lead your peers, to communicate with your peers. A big problem in my opinion in today’s game with the younger kids especially is they don’t know how to manage each other.
"They don’t know how to hold each other accountable, because they’ve never done it before, because everything was organized for them."
Doherty, 58, knows that sort of talk makes him sound like an "old man," but he did earn the battle scars to know of what he speaks.
After starring at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, he started on North Carolina’s 1981-82 NCAA championship team – his teammate, Michael Jordan, wrote the book’s foreword – and later was head coach at Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida Atlantic and SMU.
It was his three seasons at his alma mater in the early 2000s that are the emotional spine of the book, a term that ended with his departure after the 2002-03 season, two years before his recruits won an NCAA title under Roy Williams.
Doherty struggled for years to get over it. Finally, he met with Williams, his former boss at Kansas and successor at North Carolina, and got it all off his chest. (His college coach, Dean Smith, was in ill health by then.)
"I was kind of embarrassed to say that as soon as I got in there I started crying, and it all came out," Doherty said. "That was therapeutic. I had the best night’s sleep I had in six years that night."
About three quarters of Doherty’s book is a basketball-oriented memoir. The final quarter offers detailed leadership advice, something that Doherty now does for a living.
He conducts speaking engagements on the subject and works as an executive coach. He also hosts or co-hosts two weekly radio shows in Charlotte, one about sports and the other about news. And now he has a book.
"I want it to be both entertaining and give the backstory of what happened to me," he said, "what mistakes I made, why I went on a leadership journey, what I learned and what I can share to use in your leadership role."
Doherty still has close ties to Long Island, with three sisters living in or near Long Beach, and a brother who lives in New Jersey and works in the city.
Being a New York-area product served him well in the rough-and-tumble world of big-time basketball.
He recalled the scene at the 1983 ECAC Holiday Festival final against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.
"Back then they let the fans right along the court, and the guys were on the baseline drinking beer doing what New Yorkers do," he said. "It was, ‘Hey, f-you! Hey, Doherty, I went to school with your brother!’
"Whatever it was, it was energy of the New York fans. They were the characters around the game."
As for the hoops intensity of Tobacco Road, he said, "As a player, people would say, ‘What do you think about the Duke-Carolina rivalry?’ I’m like, ‘Well, in all due respect, I’ve kind of played in it. It was St. Agnes-Holy Trinity.’
"Those gyms were packed. You had to get there early. There was usually a fight in the stands during the JV game. You had to fight through a crowd. It was a hostile environment. [In college], it was just more people watching."