NA boys’ basketball team: 10 wins, eight in a row

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington’s boys’ basketball team has quietly raced out to a 10-2 record and an eight-game winning streak, thanks to the play of the team’s leading scorer, sophomore Isaac Aguiar, who is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington’s boys’ basketball team has quietly raced out to a 10-2 record and an eight-game winning streak, thanks to the play of the team’s leading scorer, sophomore Isaac Aguiar, who is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.

When the high school basketball season began last month, North Arlington boys’ head coach Rich Corsetto didn’t know what the future had in store for the Vikings.

Corsetto, a coaching lifer who is in his third season with the Vikings, knew that he had some of the ingredients into making a good team.

“I thought we would be good, because we had three starters back,” said Corsetto, the long-time college coach at Hudson County Community and later Passaic County Community before taking over the NA program three years ago. “It was a good group, a physical group. It was a team that played well together and liked each other. They also work their tails off. They had a very positive attitude.”

But Corsetto could not have predicted what transpired, as the Vikings have already won 10 games this season, including the last eight in a row.

“They’re tough guys,” Corsetto said. “The majority of them all play football, so that makes them as tough as nails. I’m 69 years old now and this is an old school team. From football, they came to us in football shape, so it took a few weeks for them to get into basketball shape. They’ve just come together since a loss to Paterson Charter.”

One of the biggest reasons for the Vikings’ transformation has been the play of sophomore forward Isaac Aguiar, who has turned into a phenomenal high school basketball player. The 6-foot-6 Aguiar, who should grow even more, is averaging close to 16 points per game and 10 rebounds per contest.

Last week, Aguiar had three double-doubles and just missed a triple double.

The promising Aguiar had 12 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots in a win over Hasbrouck Heights, had 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots against Wood-Ridge and had 26 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots in a win against North Star Academy of Union City.

In any other week, Aguiar would have easily been Athlete of the Week material.

“He’s made a tremendous difference,” Corsetto said. “It’s very difficult for any team we play to go inside against us, because Isaac is so intimidating. The kid has grown four inches since last year. He’s going to be a very good player and if he keeps working at his game, he’s going to be an [NCAA] Division I player. He still has to grow into his body. But he’s very athletic, he’s very agile, he’s quick and he can shoot the ball from the outside.”

Corsetto likes the way his team plays on the defensive end. They allowed just 37 points against North Star and most of that came in garbage time.

“They’re tough and they play defense,” Corsetto said. “That’s the key. They’re one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever coached.”

Corsetto said that his coaching staff, which includes assistants George Rotondo and Marcello D’Andrea, worked hard with Aguiar over the summer to make him become more of a presence inside.

“The kid is just mild mannered,” Corsetto said. “He’s changed the whole way we play. He never missed a game in the summer league or fall league. He’s also the nicest kid who comes from a great family.”

Senior Edgar Carranza, a three-year starter, has been rock steady for the Vikings, averaging close to 10 points per game.

“We didn’t have him the first 12 games of the season last year and that hurt us,” Corsetto said of Carranza. “He makes a difference.”

Senior Kevin Cerqueira is the team’s point guard. He’s averaging nearly eight points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Cerqueira had nine assists against Wood-Ridge and an astounding 13 assists in the win over North Star.

“He’s having a great year for us,” Corsetto said. “He’s fitting into his role nicely. We knew his assist total would go up this year.”

Timmy Ford, another senior, is averaging 11.7 points per game. He’s hit twice as many 3-pointers as he’s made regular baskets.

“He’s been hitting his threes, which makes everyone better,” Corsetto said.

Senior Steven Velez has been contributing in a huge way of late, scoring 18 in the win over Wood-Ridge and 19 in the win over North Star.

“He’s been playing very well for us,” Corsetto said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid who has nice moves around the basket.”

The team features two football standouts in Michael Manzo-Lewis (the team’s quarterback) and Joe Morales (the team’s main running back) coming off the bench.

“It’s perhaps the best bench I’ve ever had,” Corsetto said. “Morales does all the little things. I can put him in for anyone and he’ll play. Manzo- Lewis is electric when he gets on the floor. He’s so quick and makes plays.”

Corsetto said that he has hope the Vikings can contend in the tough NJIC Meadowlands Division, where St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Paterson Charter sit atop the standings. Both of those teams are 5-0 with the Vikings 4-2.

“We have the two losses in the league, but you never know what can happen,” Corsetto said.

As for the Bergen County Jamboree, the Vikings should be able to earn a berth with their 10-2 record.

“We put the paperwork in to see if we get in,” said Corsetto.

One of the prerequisites for qualifying for the Bergen County tourney is a .650 winning percentage, so the Vikings have that.

“I think we’ll get in,” Corsetto said. “It should be interesting to see where we fall.”

In any case, Corsetto is having the time of his life with this team.

“I can’t wait to get to the gym to work with these kids,” Corsetto said. “They’re such a pleasure to be around. I love the way this team plays. They’ve caught on with what we’re trying to do very quickly. They listen and accept criticism. What’s there not to like?”

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”