CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Lance Dottin can try, and try he will.
He can blame plain ol' ignorance.
He can blame print's ever-shrinking news hole.
But at some point, the Cambridge boys basketball coach is going to have to come around to the fact that soon there will be nothing mystifying about his 6-foot-8 sophomore big man, center Jacquil Taylor, of whom he can't help but grin when he says the 15-year-old "must be the state's best-kept secret". Talent like this -- someone for his size so adept at getting liftoff around the rim, and getting up and down the court -- can only fly under the radar for so long.
UMass has already offered the sophomore, and Boston College assistant Akbar Waheed was in attendance last night at War Memorial Recreation Center to watch as the Falcons crushed Dorchester, 78-21, in their season-opener. With exception of studs like Haverhill's Noah Vonleh, New Mission's Kachi Nzerem and St. John's Prep's Pat Connaughton, few players among the MIAA talent have risen on the radar over the last six months as rapidly as Taylor, and that was on display in a variety of ways in the win.
On the opening tip, Taylor merely slapped the ball down court to Deondre Starling, who laid it in. On Dorchester's first two possessions of the game, 6-foot-7 center Debrien Cora-Perez took it into the post only to find himself on the receiving end of a swat, the first two of five on the night for Taylor, the crowd ovations louder with each one.
Then, in the second quarter, Taylor shrugged off an 0-for-4 start from the field with two great displays of athleticism. First, he started the quarter tip-slamming home his brother Maurice's errant three-point play attempt, getting half of his forearm above the rim ("That was amazing," laughed Maurice). Then, with three minutes left, he took a quick outlet pass on the fast break and landed a two-handed dunk to make it 41-13 and force a timeout.
"Last year, my first few games, I was shaky, I didn't know if I wanted the ball in my hands," Jacquil said. "Now, I want the ball, and when I'm double and triple-teamed I want to pass the ball out."
When all was said and done, Jacquil finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in three quarters, and didn't get his first foul until 3:35 left in the third (by then with the game well in hand).
"Jacquil is just scratching the surface right now," Dottin said. "Last year he came to us as a freshman, didn't start the first few games, but then when he came back and got in the starting lineup, I mean there was no turning back. Just fabulous all year, and he was the difference maker. I tell everyone he's the different maker at both ends.
"You'll feel his impact alot, especially on the defensive end, but now on the offensive end he's a guy that's capable of putting up double digits. He's got a nice stroke, he makes his free throws, great down in the post, and he's a guy who has a great motor. He's always looking to get better, a desire and determination to get better every day."
If last night's win was a small sample, and not an anomaly, then offensive skill is still an area of improvement. Jacquil missed a handful of shots facing the basket from close and mid-range, and for that he says he stays after practice every day -- often up to an hour, usually with Maurice and an assistant -- working on his game around the rim.
Still, this is a disciplined team with plenty of length in the frontcourt, reinforced by the 6-foot-5 Maurice's abilty to create his own shot off the dribble and through traffic, and perhaps further emboldened later this week when 6-foot-4 junior center Kevin Lovaincy returns to the lineup. The Falcons suffocated in the press last night, and with their length are able to disrupt passing lanes and force offenses back out to the perimeter.
So don't expect Cambridge -- or Jacquil -- to be able to lay low for too much longer.
"Again, he can't be the best-kept secret, but if he is...hey, we'll take it, man," Dottin laughed. "We'll keep flying under the radar."