Local hoops coaches leaving big shoes to fill


A pair of local basketball coaches announced that they would be leaving their respective posts, as CCRI men’s coach Rick Harris and Cranston East girls coach Jhamal Diggs resigned recently.

Harris will be stepping away and his role will be filled on an interim basis, while Diggs was hired as an assistant for the URI women’s program. Each of these coaches leave behind tremendous legacies and holes to fill.

Harris finishes his CCRI tenure with the second most wins in program history and helped gide the Knights to eight region championships and four appearances in the NJCAA tournament. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was guiding the team through the rigors of COVID and kept things not only afloat, but helped the team maintain its position as one of the regions’s premier clubs.

In my opinion, Harris’ influence on local basketball is incredibly overlooked. Sure, we all know how successful he was as a coach and the strength of his teams over the years, but his position as a junior college coach is extraordinarily tough and important.

Unlike four-year colleges, Harris only had kids for a year or two. Continuity in his rosters were extremely tough to come by and the fact that his program remained so consistent over the years is a testament to him. Also, many kids go to junior college programs in order to make it on a four-year team. Without these teams, without quality coaches, many of these kids would see their collegiate playing dream dashed before they even started.

Harris had many, many players graduate from his team and continue to play. Many went on to be very successful college players. His work and the service he provided these athletes was remarkable and can’t be overstated. He also did a ton of recruiting in Rhode Island and some of his best players ever were locals. What he accomplished at CCRI is incredible and the Knights are going to have their hands full in replacing him.

As for Diggs, he became the state’s best young high school coach in his three-year run with the Thunderbolts. Despite being in his 20’s, Diggs operated like a seasoned veteran and took a sub-par team and turned it into a playoff contender in just one season. His final two years, the Bolts reached the playoffs and the open state tournament with lineups that played beyond themselves.

For his impact, he was named the division’s coach of the year twice and helped this ordinary team become a factor at states.

I’ve always enjoyed working with Diggs. He’s pleasant and connects very well with his players. It is evident beyond the performance on the court. He also coaches the East boys volleyball team and guided them to the semifinals in his first season at the helm.

He is just one of those coaches that has the magic touch. He understands how to connect with young athletes and how to motivate them and keep them engaged. It’s impressive to see him do it at such a young age as well, usually kids his age struggle as they are still maturing as well.

It will be interesting to see him coaching at the Division I college level. Obviously he has a ways to go before being a full-time coach is on the table, but considering how fast he rose to his new position shows that it is certainly in his future if he wants it to be. He performed beyond the high school level and deserves a chance at a big club. I am very happy for him.

As for East, we will see who takes over but he or she will also have big shoes to fill. The team also graduated a few key players, so we’ll see how it goes. On the bright side, Diggs’ influence should pay dividends for the returners and they are set up to succeed.

Next topic … Connie Mack baseball. We are in the middle of the state playoffs and I have to tip my cap to the league for its use of its website.

Although the league’s website was dormant for the regular season, it was rejuvenated last week as the playoffs began and has been updated each day. After each game, the final scores have been promptly posted with a few lines of stats and how things played out. They have posted team photos, schedules, and it has been very easy to follow. We had three teams competing and as of this writing had two remaining, so this website has been a great resource.

I wish that every sports league has websites like this. Of course, every league has a site or social media page, but I wish that they provided the information that this one does. All the info is provided by the coaches after each game and an administrator hops on the site to upload it. Simple as that.

Especially during the summer months with Little League All-Stars, Connie Mack, American Legion, we have so many teams going and although some leagues are better than others, there are times where it is a challenge to find something as basic as a final score.

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League does a pretty good job in this regard. There are hundreds of teams each season to keep tabs on so it is tougher, but overall, they do a good job of providing rosters, scores and standings.

As for these smaller summer leagues though, they should take notice. Coaches ask all the time how they can get their team noticed when I am not able to be present, and honestly, one central website where there are regular updates is the best route. Of course, I encourage my coaches to reach out to me directly, but I would be thrilled to see more sites follow suit with Connie Mack

My Pitch, sports column


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