After down season, Cambridge on rebound

By Evan MacDonald, Globe Correspondent | February 8, 2010

Last season was a tough year for the Cambridge Rindge and Latin boys’ basketball program.

The Falcons finished 12-9 and lost in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament to eventual Eastern Mass. champion Lynn English, 67-65, in a game they led by 8 points early in the fourth quarter.

Seasons like last year have been few and far between for a team that has arguably been the best in Massachusetts over the past three decades, with six state championships during that span.

To top it off, the Falcons graduated nine seniors and looked to be headed for a rebuilding year.

Instead, the 12th-ranked Falcons have stormed to a 13-2 start, with their only losses coming against Greater Boston League rival Everett and Western Mass. power Sabis International. Cambridge has reeled off eight consecutive wins since the 59-55 setback against the Crimson Tide Jan. 8.

“We had some good role players, guys that were bench players last year, that had to step up into new roles as starters and leaders,’’ coach Lance Dottin said after Friday night’s 60-55 win over Somerville. “But we’re not looking too far ahead . . . we’re just going to get back to practice, because that’s what we need to do. Get back to practice, and get better.’’

The Cambridge program has a rich history. NBA Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing led the Falcons to three consecutive state titles from 1979-1981 under coach Mike Jarvis. Coach Al Cocolutto also guided Cambridge to championships in 1986 and 1990.

Dottin played on that 1986 team. In 14 years as coach, his resume also boasts the 2001 state championship and two other sectional titles, the most recent in 2007.

“I remember myself, coming up as a youth, all I ever wanted to do was play Cambridge basketball,’’ he said. “I was fortunate enough to win a state championship . . . hopefully these guys will aspire to do the same thing.’’

Senior captain Ahmad Charles said the history associated with the Cambridge uniform makes taking the court each night even more significant.

“It’s an honor to put on the Cambridge uniform, because there’s so much history behind it,’’ Charles said. “You want to go out there and not let your fans down, because wearing the uniform is a special thing.’’

Dottin’s teams have traditionally made the most of the entire roster, and this year is no different. The Falcons receive contributions from 12 or 13 players on any given night.

Seniors Charles, Jason Nunes, Paul Anderson, Jordan Grace, Kevin Paul, Kayaki Battle, and Darius Sealy see time on the wing positions along with sophomore Ladon Adair. Junior Deondre Starling, sophomores Gary Edwards, Kevin Lovaincy, Maurice Taylor and Troy DaCosta and freshman Marcus Faison do most of the work in the low post.

But the biggest addition – literally – to Cambridge this season has been Jacquil Taylor, a 6-foot-7-inch freshman who starts at center. Dottin said he averages close to 10 points and five blocks per game.

“Taylor’s really come on very strong,’’ Dottin said. “He can change a game in a hurry. We’re just hoping that he doesn’t hit the freshman wall. He keeps getting better every day in practice.’’

Lovaincy said since Cambridge plays virtually its whole roster, the players have a lot of trust in each other. At the same time, he thinks they have plenty of room for improvement before the state tournament.

“We’re big in size, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are willing to work hard,’’ Lovaincy said. “But I still think we have a lot of work to do. We’re not where we need to be yet.’’

None of the seven seniors played for the Falcons team that won the 2007 North sectional title when they were freshmen. Charles said losing last year against English served as more motivation for the Falcons to make their own mark this season.

“We used that [English loss] as a motivation to come out hard, to turn it around, and win games,’’ Charles said. “We’re very hungry. We want to see how it feels to get the glory.’’

Monday: Andover (12-6) at No. 14 North Andover (16-1), 7 p.m. – When these two met back on Dec. 23, the Golden Warriors emerged victorious, 52-50. But they’re in a rut, losing three straight.

Tuesday: Lynn Classical (12-6) at Salem (13-5), 7 p.m. – Both teams have been hot lately, and the Rams escaped with a 53-51 victory in the teams’ first meeting Dec. 21.

Wednesday: Boston English (11-5) at No. 8 New Mission (17-1), 5 p.m. – The Titans rolled, winning, 75-53, the first time the two met Jan. 15, but since then English has won six of seven.

Thursday: No. 6 Newton North (16-2) at Needham (11-5), 5:15 p.m. – The top two teams in the Bay State Carey square off. The Tigers took a 69-63 decision when the teams played Jan. 15 in Newton.

Friday: No. 12 Cambridge (13-2) at No. 5 Madison Park (13-1), 7 p.m. – Two traditional powers meet again. Last year’s game was a classic, with the Falcons winning, 77-72, in overtime on Senior Day.

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