The ‘Doc’ finally has clean bill of health

by John Hageman

Maybe itâÄôs appropriate that Kristen DockeryâÄôs nickname among teammates is âÄúDoc,âÄù because one visit to the doctor changed her basketball career.

Dockery, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, played in just 14 career games coming into this season due to nagging injuries, making minimal contributions on the court along the way.

But when sophomore starting center Katie Loberg went down with a left knee injury three weeks ago, which could have been a major blow to a young frontcourt, it proved to be a golden opportunity for Dockery.

After three seasons of watching from the bench, Dockery made the most of her chance.

In her first career start Nov. 17 against Pittsburgh, Dockery scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds in 30 minutes, all career highs at the time. She played just 34 minutes in the previous two seasons combined.

âÄúI was confident that I would be able to step up for my team,âÄù Dockery said. âÄúI was ready for it.âÄù

A native of Granger, Ind., just eight miles from the Notre Dame campus, Dockery whittled her list of potential schools down to Iowa, North Carolina State, Purdue and Minnesota.

As a member of the 2007 Indiana Senior All-Star Team, Dockery was heavily recruited from programs across the country, so Minnesota head coach Pam Borton had high expectations.

But shortly after coming to campus, Dockery began feeling pain in her knee, which continued to the point that she couldnâÄôt get on the court. Later, a doctorâÄôs visit showed that years of wear and tear had done their damage, and arthroscopic surgery was required on both knees.

âÄúNeedless to say, it was very unexpected,âÄù Dockery said, adding that she doesnâÄôt have much cartilage left in her knee. âÄúYou have this whole vision for what itâÄôs going to be like and I was ready to play college ball.âÄù

Dockery missed the rest of her freshman season and couldnâÄôt put any weight on her left leg for some time after the surgery.

Borton said that even after Dockery was able to start practicing, she still couldnâÄôt participate in some drills with the rest of the team and occasionally had to sit out from practice for days at a time with knee pain.

Because this spring was the first time in DockeryâÄôs career that she participated in all the teamâÄôs drills, Borton didnâÄôt know what kind of production to see out of her in her final season.

âÄúI think it takes a while for you to learn your body and what you can and cannot do,âÄù Borton said. âÄúOnce she was able to gain confidence with her physical abilities, it kind of springboarded her to where she is right now.âÄù

Dockery took over the starting role for two weeks until LobergâÄôs return, averaging eight points and more than six rebounds in three games while providing a steady presence in the post.

She didnâÄôt slow down after relinquishing her starting spot. With her new-found confidence, Dockery set another career-high with 12 points off the bench in a win over North Carolina State at the Nugget Classic, including an eight-point spurt in the second half that gave the Gophers a lead they wouldnâÄôt relinquish.

Loberg again went down with an AchillesâÄô injury against Virginia Tech on Thursday after just two and a half games back, and Dockery is ready to start again if Loberg canâÄôt play Thursday against Southern.

Like any player, Dockery enjoys the responsibilities of the starting role, but even as one of three captains, she doesnâÄôt mind playing behind her younger teammates.

To freshman Kionna Kellog, Dockery is a kind of âÄúmotherly figureâÄù that proves that a captain donâÄôt have to be a prolific scorer or stat-sheet stuffer.

âÄúEven if sheâÄôs not on the floor leading, she always something to important to say,âÄù Kellogg said. âÄúSheâÄôs very wise.âÄù

One of two seniors on the team and the GophersâÄô longest tenured player (senior China Antoine transferred to the team before last season), Dockery has been through a lot in her career, even if most of it didnâÄôt happen on the court.

âÄúYou just have to take them as they come to you,âÄù Dockery said. âÄúI think everything happens for a reason, and I just tried to be as ready as I could when I got healthy again.âÄù