History, Rich Tradition Drive Young Cambridge Stars
By Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – From the bricks outside the building to the hardwood on the renovated War Memorial Gymnasium floor, history permeates every facet of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.
The school graduated famous figures such as the poet E.E. Cummings, as well as actor-screenwriter extraordinaires Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, while churning out plenty of legendary athletes as well.
Beginning with NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who led CRLS to its first three state championships and a 77-1 record from 1979-1981, all the way through to defending state champions Jakigh Dottin and Dimon Carrigan, this program is one of the most successful in Massachusetts history.
With The Dual County League Co-MVPs, Jakigh Dottin and Carrigan leading the charge, the Falcons earned their first state title in 15 years last spring. Now undefeated Cambridge (21-0) is in a position to repeat as state champions while approaching the school record (60-plus straight wins set during Ewing’s final seasons) with 43 consecutive victories.
For the current players, it’s all about blocking out the noise and avoiding any outside distractions that might arise when considering the historical implications, but for head coach Lance Dottin, perspective comes easier.
Dottin made his own tremendous impact as an all-American in football and basketball star while leading Cambridge to a state championship in 1986.
After a storied football career under legendary head coach Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan, he returned to his high school alma mater as junior varsity boys basketball coach and eventually succeeded his respected mentor Al Coccoluto as the head varsity coach in 1997.
Over the past 22 seasons, Dottin has made the school’s history a part of its present.
“We begin every practice by standing on the circle at half court and talking about some of the players and coaches that came before us,” Dottin began. “I tell the players that we must respect that tradition. I tell them you’ve got my watchful eyes right on you and I’m a part of that tradition.”
Dottin’s nephew, Jakigh, grew up in the midst of that tradition and began attending practices from the time he was nine years old. But for a relative outsider in Carrigan, learning about the rich history of his high school came as a bit of a surprise.
Carrigan, who moved from Lynn to Cambridge in eighth grade, said at first “I thought Cambridge was part of Boston, but then I found out there was so much history in the city itself. After hearing about all that history I just wanted to come out every day and be the best that I could be.”
On his first day of practice as a freshman, Carrigan (pictured above) and his teammates were asked to identify the three jerseys framed in Al Coccoluto Gymnasium. He was stunned to hear that former NBA superstar Patrick Ewing, as well as former Michigan star and tenth-overall NBA draft pick Rumeal Robinson were graduates of his new school.
The third jersey belongs to 2001 state champion Lou Ford, the half brother of Robinson and the school’s all-time leader in assists with more than 500 over his four-year career.
While Lance Dottin has his jersey hung up at home, he is one of three all-Americans in program history along with Ewing and Robinson and made a tremendous impact while logging over 1,000 career points during his playing days.
All in all, Cambridge Rindge and Latin won seven state championships since the merger with Rindge Technical School back in 1977. The first three came in successive years under Ewing and great point guard Karl Hobbs.
After losing in the state semifinals in 1985, Dottin and Robinson teamed up for the fourth state title in school history in 1986 before losing in triple overtime to Springfield Central in the state championship game the following year.
A future George Washington alum and son of great Civil Rights activist Bob Moses, Omo Moses led Cambridge to another state title in 1990 and Dottin returned to guide Lou Ford and star guard Stephen Passley to a state title in 2001 as head coach.
Several years after Ford led the Falcons to a championship, Jakigh Dottin began to learn about the rich history of his future high school and his uncle’s place within that story.
“All my life I’ve known about the history of Cambridge,” said Jakigh. “I started learning about the greats from a very young age and it inspired me to want to be a part of it one day.”
Jakigh would begin his career by enrolling in the ‘Shoot Straight’ program for young athletes, the very same program that included Lance Dottin as one of its first campers when it was founded by Coccoluto and future collegiate coach Mike Jarvis in the late 70s.
From Shoot Straight, through the competitive middle school leagues in Cambridge, young athletes are channeled towards a focused career at their local high school.
Dottin explained how his nephew’s upbringing was similar to Lou Ford’s in that regard.
“Louis grew up in the Shoot Straight program. He grew up hearing about the legacy of Cambridge basketball. His sister was a cheerleader, his brother was a track star, so there was a very strong tradition of athletics in the Cambridge community in that one house.”
He continued, “Like Jakigh, Louis grew up on Cambridge basketball. It was everything to him. He won back-to-back middle school championships at Fletcher School and we knew we had a special group going in [to the 2001 season. Ford] started as a true freshman and we never looked back.”
Dottin went on to explain how Ford never missed a single practice throughout his four years and spent countless hours in the gym. He missed one game for disciplinary reasons, but gave his all for the program as a captain and learned all he could as a point guard.
“[Coach Dottin] told me that all his point guards were sponges and that’s what I try to be now,” said Jakigh. “Once I became old enough to understand the game I was able to watch film and see what Lou Ford and others were able to do on the court and thought about doing those things myself.”
Like Ford, Jakigh has never missed a practice and he’s played in every varsity game since he made the team as a freshman. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 6.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game over the last two seasons and has been the driving force behind the Falcons’ 43-game unbeaten streak.
Additionally, he’s set an excellent example by following through on what his uncle expects of a Cambridge captain.
“One of the things about being the captain at [CRLS] is you don’t get sick,” Dottin said. “You don’t take days off. In this tradition, it’s one of those things where you have to be there every day.”
“Those are the same things I’m trying to maintain and preach to the young guys here so they can understand what this program means to so many men who have played and who aspire to play Cambridge basketball.”
Dottin went on to add that “One of the things about being a captain is that you have to deliver,” and his nephew did just that by following through on his promise to go one step further last season and bring home a state championship.
When he checked out of the game during a win over St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the state title game last March, Jakigh and his uncle shared a tearful embrace in which he repeated, “I told you, I told you” after delivering on said promise.
And that breakthrough certainly didn’t occur by chance.
Jakigh went one step further off the court with regards to a Cambridge basketball tradition. When he was head coach in the 1970s and early 80s, Jarvis began instituting the ‘100-a-day club’ by asking his players to do 100 push-ups and sit-ups every day.
Rumeal Robinson took it one step further by doing 1,000 of each exercise per day and Jakigh is working on his strength and endurance by doing well over 350 per day as a senior.
The strong 6-foot-2 point guard is able to finish through contact and create for teammates because of that conditioning, but his uncle points to the development between his nephew’s ears as his most important quality.
“One thing about Jakigh, which is undervalued now in the college game, is the leadership he brings to the table. It’s unbelievable. He’s been on varsity for four years and from the moment we inserted him into the starting lineup, everything’s changed for us,” Dottin said.
Of course, Carrigan’s continued improvement has proven just as integral towards the resurgence of Cambridge basketball.
The 6-foot-8 center nearly averaged a triple double with points, rebounds and blocks during the Falcons state title run last spring and he’s averaging 10.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game while piling up 211 rejections over the past two seasons.
Carrigan mentioned his appreciation of all the late developing stars in Cambridge history and he’s molded his game in similar fashion after (in his own words) taking basketball seriously by the time he reached tenth grade.
Offensively, Carrigan is performing on a whole different level this season, while his presence as a shot blocker has turned Cambridge into arguably the best defensive teams in the state.
Yet he still has a long way to go before his coach will compare him to the greatest player in school history.
“There is no comparison to Patrick [Ewing],” Dottin maintained. “As great of a shot blocker as Dimon [Carrigan] is and what he brings on defense, when you watched Patrick you were watching the best high school basketball player in the country and in my memory he was the most dominant defensive force we’ve ever seen.”
“That being said,” Dottin added. “Jakigh and [Carrigan] have a chance to become two of the greatest players in this long tradition of Cambridge basketball.”
Of course, Carrigan and Dottin aren’t competing against history, but against current teams throughout the state. At the same time, their awareness of their potential place in history if they can win back-to-back titles creates some extra motivation.
“We hear about it every day,” Jakigh said about winning another title, “But we try to worry about what’s happening now. It would be a blessing to bring another state championship back and the feeling is amazing when everyone comes together in celebration.”
Both players laughed that while they try to block out the noise during the state tournament, former players, current athletes and the entire rest of the Cambridge community got together after the state finals last year.
In Cambridge, basketball can serve as a truly unifying force.
For Carrigan, he’s hoping that it can bring some attention to social injustice, as he participates (along with teammate Nathan Habtom) in the popular protest by taking a knee during the national anthem prior to each game.
“I’m going to keep kneeling until I feel that social justice improves not just for black lives but for all lives,” said Carrigan. “It’s not going to affect my game, it’s just what I believe in and something I feel is very important based on what’s happening in the country right now.”
Just as there is a tradition of basketball excellence, there is also a long tradition of social activism from Cambridge graduates. Omo Moses is the son of two famous Civil Rights Activists who met in Mississippi in 1964 and he’s now the head of the Young People’s Project (YPP), which educates underprivileged kids throughout the nation.
“That’s amazing to hear,” Carrigan replied when he heard about Moses’ legacy. “It tells you how Cambridge takes pride in [activism]. It’s not just about basketball, it’s about a community more than any individual and we really look out for each other.”
The strength of that community is a primary reason why the program remains so strong in the modern era. While many public schools are losing their best players to preparatory and private schools, CRLS has only lost two truly elite prospects (brothers Jaquil and Maurice Taylor) to transfer over the past several decades.
Now Carrigan and Jakigh hope to put that community and their team on their respective backs once again by leading Cambridge to another state title, potentially cementing their legacy the process.
“When you look at the legends, those guys delivered a title to the city,” Dottin explained. “Those championships belong to everybody, not just the team. It belongs to all the kids that aspire to play one day, to the travel teams, the Shoot Straight program, our student body and the entire community.”
For his part, Carrigan is excited to try and make history.
“It’s time for everyone to tune it right now. This is the stretch run. This is where we want to be and we want to go all the way back [to the state finals],” said Carrigan. “The butterflies are gone now our experience has us better suited for [the state tournament] because we know how to play a lot of games in a short period. We’re going to be ready right out of the gate.”
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