In one of his first starts last season for the Cambridge Rindge & Latin freshmen boys’ basketball team, Ben Pimlott put on a show.
Born without a fully formed right arm, the 5-foot-7-inch guard spent countless hours in the gym improving his ability to catch and shoot — never deterred by the inherent difficulties created by his disability.
He didn’t make the Cambridge Pride travel team in sixth grade, but practiced all year and made the cut in seventh grade. Admittedly more of a defender and distributor than a scorer, Pimlott estimated that his first bucket came halfway through his eighth-grade season, and said he felt timid early in his high school career.
Bolstered by the encouragement of Cambridge freshman coach George Rodriguez, Pimlott found his confidence in a midseason road game against Bedford.
Fitting seamlessly into Cambridge’s fast-paced attack, Pimlott drained eight 3-pointers and scored 32 points that afternoon, eclipsing his previous career-high by more than 20 points to leave stunned defenders and opposing coaches with their mouths agape.
“I could feel my confidence grow as the game went along,” said Pimlott, who is now 15 and starting on the junior varsity. “I just caught fire and I was able to stay consistent the rest of the season from there.”
A few games later he hit six 3-pointers against Acton-Boxborough, playing well enough throughout the remainder of his freshman season to earn the starting job this season.
Although his proficiency on the court often astonishes onlookers, Pimlott recognizes that his success is the product of a long journey.
The youngest of three children adopted from Chinese orphanages by Kathy Pimlott, Ben, began playing soccer at age 5. He soon joined his adopted sister, Maggie, now 18, in trips to the numerous basketball courts around Cambridge.
“There was never a lot to do at my house,” said Pimlott. “We didn’t have a TV, so I spent most of time outside and since basketball courts are everywhere and Cambridge is based on basketball, I spent most of my time playing.”
Pimlott soon decided to focus nearly all of his free time and energy toward becoming a better player and he thrived in his development thanks to the support of the eclectic and tight-knit Cambridge community.
“The staff at the Frisoli Youth Center was really welcoming and didn’t discriminate,” Maggie said.
“Once [Ben] joined Cambridge Pride he definitely became ‘that guy,’ ” she continued, laughing. “It was all basketball, all the time.”
Driven to succeed, Pimlott worked out twice a day in the offseason, stayed after practices, and played pick-up ball with his sister or his best friend, Khai Smith, who is now the starting center on Cambridge’s varsity squad.
“When we go to the courts, [opponents] think they don’t have to worry about [Ben],” said the 6-foot-6-inch Smith, “but then they see what he can do and they respect him. It shocks me how much he works. He wants it real bad. He wants to prove to everyone that he can play and he works out every day, morning, afternoon and night.”
Pimlott likely was born righthanded, but he’s acclimated to maneuver through tasks both large and small with his left arm as the guide.
“He’s incredibly adaptable,” Kathy Pimlott said of her son.
“He does everything with his left and uses his smaller arm, too. He’s always figured out a way to do things, and for him, it’s never really been a big deal. That’s just how it is.”
When shooting a basketball became the next task on his radar, Pimlott approached it with his typically steadfast attitude.
By spending countless hours in the gym steadying the ball with his shortened right arm and following through with his left, he became an excellent shooter.
“I want to inspire people, that anything is possible,” said Pimlott. “Having one arm has made me realize how blessed people are to be able to see and hear and even walk. I’d like to give motivational speeches or do something to give back to the Cambridge community. That’s the foundation of Cambridge basketball.”
Cambridge Rindge & Latin has a long history of success dating to the school’s three consecutive state championships from 1979-1981 aided by the play of NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.
Accomplished alum Lance Dottin (’87) has coached the team to back-to-back state titles (2016-17) with his nephew, Jakigh Dottin, running the point.
Yet this familial community welcomes all.
Freshman guard C.J. DuPont, born with dwarfism, hasn’t allowed his disability to interfere with his love of basketball.
Described by Rodriguez as “the best teammate” and “a kid who brings a positive attitude every single day,” DuPont is beloved and elicits raucous cheers from the Cambridge faithful whenever he enters a game.
“That’s what makes Cambridge the unique place that it is,” said Dottin. “It’s so welcoming to everybody.”
“Whatever [Pimlott and DuPont] have had to persevere through, clearly they’ve turned it into strengths,’’ said Dottin. “Neither one wants to be looked upon as different and for someone like Ben, it’s simply amazing what he does and what he brings to our program.”
“I have never treated my son differently and I told everyone who knows me not to either,” said C.J’s mother, Deborah DuPont, who attended high school with Rodriguez.
“I told Geo [Rodriguez] not to put C.J. on the team if he couldn’t do it, but he has given my son the opportunity of a lifetime and that brought my son’s spirit up even more.”
Rodriguez — a member of the 2001 state championship team at Cambridge — has become a leader in the community whom Pimlott considers a role model.
As an assistant on the varsity team, head coach of the freshman squad, and director of the Cambridge Pride program, Rodriguez has played a key role in the development of countless students
“With [Pimlott’s] disability, things can be a little difficult for him in basketball,” said Rodriguez. “But at the same time, he asks that we never give him any favoritism.”
“That mind-set has translated really well to the high school level and now he just goes. You really can’t tell he has one arm when he’s out there. If everybody had a ‘Ben mind-set’ we’d win easily, but not everybody has that drive to be successful and to make the best of everything.”
According to his sister Maggie, who stars on the varsity soccer and basketball teams, discussions at the dinner table often revolve around how Ben can better his on-court performances.
She recounts how her little brother will pour over YouTube videos, analyzing ways to expand his repertoire of crossover moves or finish with scoop layups from either side of the rim.
Always willing to embrace the next challenge, Ben hopes to make the varsity team and earn a college scholarship.
“When I first started playing organized basketball I was nervous,” said Pimlott. “But as I’ve given almost all my time to basketball, I know I can compete at that level.”
On his disability, Pimlott said, “In this community it’s become normal. Everyone knows each other and I feel at home in Cambridge.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.