When Cathedral athletic director Derrick Beasley stepped in as the varsity boys’ basketball coach last winter, he knew his role would be on an interim basis.
Beasley wanted the seven graduating seniors to have a familiar face on the sideline, but he brought in an experienced basketball mind to begin charting the program’s future.
Jamall Griffin, an associate head coach for the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC), joined the Cathedral staff as an assistant last year, and is now at the helm of a team brimming with young talent.
Cathedral is off to a 3-2 start in the Catholic Central League with only two upperclassmen on the roster. Their starting lineup is comprised of eighth graders Jasaad Fenton and Jaylen Harrell, sophomores Kamari James and Wesley Odiase, and freshman Matt Drayton, with 6-foot-5 sophomore Anthony Coke soon to return from a foot injury.
“It’s a new group of kids, a new coaching staff, a relatively new AD, and a new headmaster [Dan Carmody],” said Griffin. “We’re just trying to get better one day at a time in all aspects at Cathedral, not just with athletics, but with academics and from a community standpoint.”
Most of the players on the Cathedral roster grew up playing with or against each other. They developed under Harrell’s dad, Ryan, who played at Madison Park and was the Tobin Community Center’s assistant athletic director for six years.
During the pandemic this past summer, Harrell organized a free youth program called “Future Fridays” at Ramsay Park, where Cathedral’s incoming stars could work on their chemistry. Throughout the late summer and fall, they booked times for private workouts at the Tobin so they could hit the ground running this season.
“The chemistry among us grew over time,” said James, a sharpshooting guard who averages a team-high 17 points per game. “Right now I’m just enjoying playing, especially since I grew up with most of my teammates. We’re a young team. We still have a lot to learn and the coaches are by our side guiding us through everything.”
Ryan Harrell is now an assistant on Griffin’s staff and is in charge of player development along with Kristian Dodson. Harrell has worked with half of the varsity roster, and five sub-varsity players, since they were roughly 12 years old, and continued to instruct them when Cathedral’s season started with voluntary workouts in late November.
“These kids are fully committed to the program and that makes it so much easier to be committed to them,” said Harrell.
“The core group we have, they’ve played with each other for years. It’s really turned into a family in a short period of time. If they keep working, honestly, I see multiple state championships. Cathedral is poised for a big comeback. It’s going to be really special.”
Under head coach Clinton Lassiter, the Cathedral girls’ basketball program has won four Division 4 state titles over the past five seasons. After reaching five state championships (winning three) from 2006-2012, the boys’ basketball program is trying to get back to that level.
For Griffin, success will also be measured by the academic performance of his student-athletes at a school that boasts a 100 percent graduation rate 16 years running.
To ensure his players stay on track with their courses, Griffin requires attendance to a one-hour study hall prior to practice each night. His program also includes strength and conditioning, and health and wellness plans to instill good habits.
“The thing that’s easy with basketball is everyone shares a common goal,” said Griffin, whose son, Jamall Griffin Jr., captained Catholic Memorial to the 2019 Division 1 Super Bowl against St. John’s Prep.
“Everyone wants to have success and become student-athletes at the next level. When that is the common objective, you’re already walking in the door on the same page. Then it’s just about teaching the system and getting [them to] buy-in.”
Even in a close 63-61 loss at Bishop Fenwick on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Griffin’s players are getting invaluable experience.
Odiase, a 6-foot-3 wing who played on the Braintree JV team last season, nettted 22 points in the defeat. In a 75-71 win over Austin Prep on New Year’s Day, sophomore Julian Webb dropped 23 points off the bench. And Harrell, an eighth grader who is already 6-4 and wears a size 15 shoe, went for 22 points with seven rebounds in an 88-59 win over Cardinal Spellman on Jan. 4.
With assistant coach Brian Leber running analytics and producing helpful data to break down their performance on film, Griffin is looking to get the most out of those players.
“We’re going in a new direction,” said Beasley, in his third year as AD, as well as serving as head football coach.
“[Griffin] was the right choice at the right time, and that’s exactly what we needed. The secret is the structure. He uses the gym to get [the players] in here and once they’re here, they have responsibilities. Once they understand that, playing basketball is just second nature.”
▪ Cristo Rey senior forward Ray Bosquet recorded his 1,000th career point on a layup during last Thursday’s Catholic Central matchup at Austin Prep. The two-time league all-star is the first player in program history to surpass the 1,000-point mark . . . St. Mary’s sophomore guard David Brown Jr. drained a game-winner with 1.9 seconds left Wednesday night, lifting the Spartans to a 63-62 non league win at Bridgewater-Raynham . . . Lowell’s George Turkson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, had a breakout performance in Tuesday’s 68-62 win over Dracut, erupting for 16 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocked shots.
▪ BC High went on pause last Friday, postponing Catholic Conference matchups against St. John’s Shrewsbury, St. John’s Prep, and Malden Catholic. The Eagles have played just two games this season, a 77-68 loss to Catholic Memorial and an 88-66 win over Xaverian. They’ll look to return to the court Jan. 29 at Xaverian.
▪ Stoughton (1-4) scored its first win of the season in dramatic fashion, surviving a last-second heave to top Foxborough, 67-64 on Tuesday . . . Braintree (1-3) defeated Milton, 56-52, to secure its first win after three losses to Newton North and three postponements.
Correspondent Matt Doherty also contributed to this story.