By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
One by one, the members of the North Arlington High School boys’ basketball team were falling by the wayside to injury. First, forward A.J. Nocciolo broke his hand. Then, point guard Thai Scott suffered a torn ACL, sidelining him for the season. Finally, Nick Martin suffered a severely sprained ankle.
The season was dwindling away and the Vikings were desperate for victories.
“We were searching for someone to score for us,” veteran North Arlington head coach Dave Walsh said.
Enter senior guard Jeff Frytek.
“I had to tell myself it was time to step up,” Frytek said. “We had some important people on the team out, so I had to remind myself that it was my time.”
Frytek has the ability to do one thing more than other.
“The one thing that Jeff gives us more than anything is stability in scoring,” Walsh said. “He has the know-how to score. He looks to get points off deflections and steals. He has the ability to make shots. Whenever he has the open shot, I want him to take it.”
Last Thursday, the Vikings had a crucial game against Saddle Brook.
“We knew that if we didn’t beat Saddle Brook, we wouldn’t have enough power points to make the state playoffs,” Walsh said. “We had to win. It was a must home game for us.”
So Walsh knew what he had to do to enhance his injury-riddled lineup.
“We adjusted our plays to get Jeff some open looks,” Walsh said. “He’s a really good catch-and-shoot shooter. As a stand-still shooter, he’s pretty good, but for some reason, he’s better shooting on the move. It had to be him. I told him whenever he had the chance to shoot to do it. Jeff taking even a bad shot is better than some of our other options.”
Frytek was ready for the challenge.
“Coach Walsh said that if we didn’t win, we were out of the state playoffs,” Frytek said. “I was going to try really hard, to do my best, to keep us in the game. It is kind of tough to do, but I kind of liked having the pressure. It gives you a chance to stand out. I got a chance to show what I can do.”
Frytek responded by scoring 19 points, leading the Vikings to a crucial 59-37 victory, enabling the Vikings to secure a berth in the upcoming NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs.
Frytek also had 20 points in the Vikings’ loss to Becton Regional on Tuesday.
For his efforts, Frytek has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Frytek, who is averaging 16 points per game over the last six contests, when the injury bug started to ravage the Vikings, said that he felt like he’s been getting better as the season has progressed.
“I’ve come out and felt like I can make shots,” Frytek said. “We try to work the ball around and distribute the ball, but I’ve been getting the ball a lot more lately. I’ve been making my shots.”
How about Walsh’s comments about shooting better on the run?
“Well, some people take a fade away shot and it’s harder for them,” Frytek said. “It’s the opposite for me.”
Walsh was glad that his senior shooter responded.
“I knew Jeff was that type of kid who could handle it,” Walsh said. “He’s a senior. He’s mentally more stable than most. He’s physically stronger. I think he had a self awareness that if he didn’t score, we’re not going to win. He figured that out on his own.”
Walsh said that Frytek has the green light to shoot at any time.
“I tell any kid, if you have an open shot, I want you to take it,” Walsh said. “I tell Jeff to shoot all the time. His best thing is shooting. He has a great 3-point shot. He’s a deep shooter. Over the last six games, he’s done that. I’m not surprised that he’s done it. He plays every minute for us. I don’t think he’s ever come out of a game. If I take him out, we have no option to score. So he’s a leader that way.”
Frytek is a two-sport standout. He’s also the starting catcher for the baseball team. “To me, it’s two different mindsets, playing basketball and baseball,” Frytek said. “But I can have a positive carryover in terms of leadership.”
Walsh thinks that the two sports interchange.
“He’s involved in both sports, being in the flow of the game,” Walsh said.
Walsh genuinely likes Frytek and the rest of the Vikings, who now own a 7-9 record.
“He’s a very good kid,” Walsh said. “I’ve been lucky this season. I have a good group of kids. They all like each other and I can tell they like each other. But Jeff’s game the other day gave us what we needed.”
Frytek has not made any plans for college yet, but would love to get a chance to play on the next level.
“I haven’t thought of playing sports in college,” Frytek said. “Everything is still up in the air. But I’m hoping I can get a shot. I’m pretty grateful for what has happened for me. I practice a lot and I play hard. I’m glad it’s all paid off a bit.”
Maybe it will pay off straight through the baseball season as well.