At Catholic Memorial, family court is in the gym — where alumni fill the sideline, and their sons take the floor

The Boston Globe
This story was originally published by the Boston Globe on January 29, 2024.

With alumni gravitating back to Catholic Memorial, the basketball program has truly become a family affair.

All six assistants to head coach Denis Tobin are former Knights with Catholic Conference titles to their names, including lead varsity assistants David St. Martin (’91) and Bruce Higgins (’93).

Their sons, Matthew St. Martin and Ryan Higgins, form the starting backcourt for 12-1 CM, which is ranked first in the latest MIAA Division 1 power rankings and sits atop the Globe’s Top 20 poll.

Hal Carey (’95), the school’s varsity baseball coach and middle school basketball coach, helped those players develop, and now they’re working with new coaches Brandon Twitty (’16), Sidney Sarfo (’16), and Tony Kandalaft (’15) to reach their potential.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think about our coaches is that they’ve got experience,” said Ryan Higgins, a sharpshooter averaging 17.7 points per game. “They’ve been through this, so they know exactly what we need to do. It’s a great resource for us.”

Bruce Higgins was a sophomore on the 1991 CM team that reached the state semifinals at the Garden and lost to John DiBiaso’s Everett squad. Now the football coach and associate athletic director at CM, DiBiaso will rib those alumnus when he sees them, but they recognize neither team likely had a shot to take down Travis Best and Springfield Central in the state final that season.

David St. Martin ran point for three seasons, and then his younger brother Steve (’93), took over that role, routinely setting the table for Higgins to top 1,000 career points and enter the CM Hall of Fame.

Both St. Martin brothers excelled as coaches, with David starting his coaching in 1994 as a volunteer at CM while he played at Babson. He became a math teacher at his alma mater in 1999, and served as an assistant under Tobin during his first stretch as head coach from 2001-2007.

After coaching Walpole for 10 seasons, including three with his brother, St. Martin returned to CM in 2017, and his son, Matthew, enrolled. He was already familiar with Higgins from their time together at hoops camps, and the backcourt duo quickly formed the same chemistry that their uncle and father displayed in 1993.

“It brings you back,” said Bruce Higgins, a Boston Police detective. “CM hasn’t changed much. We’ve got a new wing, and the gym might’ve had a paint job, and new bleachers, but it’s the same small gym. I grew up five minutes away and I’ve been watching games in that gym since second grade. To see Ryan and Matt play, it’s been really rewarding.”

In his 39th season at CM, including the last 23 as head coach, Tobin is closing in on 400 wins and could clinch his 13th Catholic Conference title.

A former guard at Boston Latin (’81) and Brandeis (’85), he happened to get his first crack to coach JV at CM when his predecessor was reassigned to run the school’s Bingo game a couple of days before the season. In 2007, Tobin led CM to a D2 state title, then steered the Knights to a D1 title in 2016 with Twitty and his son, Denis Jr., starting at point guard.

“Everyone on our staff is a former player. I don’t think many other schools can claim that,” said Tobin, a three-time Globe Coach of the Year. “It just shows that we truly are a basketball family. They came back to be part of it.

“That’s what I’m most proud of. So many guys coming back and showing pride in the program.”
Last winter, CM earned the top seed in the Division 1 statewide tournament, only to suffer a shocking first-round exit at the hands of No. 32 Winchester. That loss has motivated the returners all year, and this season began with renewed focus.

“In our first practice of the year, coach Tobin showed us the schedule and crossed out every game except Weymouth [the season opener]. That’s our mentality,” Matt St. Martin explained.

St. Martin, Higgins, and 6-foot-7-inch senior Jacob Cofield are the key returners, with Dorchester freshman Josiah Adamson averaging a team-high 20.8 points per game and freshman Aiden Pires, of Brockton, making a huge impact. Last Friday, Adamson found Pires for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Knights in a 47-45 win at Xaverian.

Whether they’ve grown up in the program or are newcomers in West Roxbury, it’s all about playing for the name on the front of the jersey for CM hoopsters.

“When I was old enough to make my own choices, there was no hesitation saying CM was where I wanted to go,” said St. Martin, who leads the team with 5.7 assists per game. “It’s not only a powerhouse program, but a great school. On the basketball side of things, you run, get the best shot you can, and play hard on defense. All the things I wanted to be a part of.”

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Catholic Memorial, the Christian Brothers School of Boston, prepares boys for college, manhood and a world full of unknown challenges, ambiguity and complex problems and the importance of relationships.