Lots of learning and tons of fun at North Arlington hoops camp

Oscar Torres is 14 years old and will enter North Arlington High School as a freshman in a couple of months.

But Torres is already proving that he’s wise beyond his years on the planet, far wiser than most teenagers.

Torres attended the North Arlington Basketball Camp last week, spearheaded by the head coach of the Vikings Marcello D’Andrea.

Torres was asked what the most important aspect of the game of basketball he learned during the week long session, held daily at the high school.

“I learned that you have to work hard if you really want something,” Torres said.

Wow, those are some strong words coming from an aspiring basketball player, wanting to play for Coach D’Andrea’s program in the fall. If Torres practices what he preaches, he’s going to go a long way with the Vikings.

Torres was one of 50 youngsters who attended the camp and hoped to come away with perhaps a morsel of basketball information and skill that he could take away from the camp and use it in his daily basketball life.

“Being here makes me want to get better,” Torres said. “I want to become a better player. This is where it all starts.”

Sure does.

Torres is a fan of the Boston Celtics and their All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who hails originally from Essex County and first attended Lacordaire Academy before transferring to the Patrick School and turned his entire basketball career around.

“I like watching Kyrie play,” Torres said. “He inspires me to play basketball a lot more. I knew that when I got to high school, I wanted to be a better all-around player. I’m looking forward to that experience, playing in high school and playing for Coach D’Andrea. I see this camp as like a little practice, getting ready for high school. I can see what I can do to help the team and let the coaches know who I am.”

Torres was just one of the many aspiring stars at the camp, a collective group that had to make the camp director very happy, knowing that the future is bright in North Arlington.

“We’re able to use basketball as a vehicle in life as well,” said D’Andrea, who had a tough first year as the head coach of the Vikings, winning only five of 26 games last season. “They have to learn to have a passion for the game. If they enjoy doing something, no matter what it is, then they can’t be afraid to work hard. If you have a passion for something, then just go for it.”

By the look of things last week, these youngsters definitely have a passion for basketball, which is not a bad first step.

“A lot of these kids have a love for the game,” D’Andrea said.

And it’s that love and passion that drives D’Andrea daily.

“It’s my profession,” said D’Andrea, who enjoyed his 52nd birthday during camp last Thursday. “It’s what I do. I teach physical education and I coach. But weeks like this, it’s what keeps me young. It brings me back to my younger days.”

D’Andrea grew up in Jersey City and played grammar school CYO basketball for St. Aedan’s parish.

“When I was growing up, I was constantly playing basketball in the school yard,” D’Andrea said. “So get them started, we gave them all a basketball and told them that in order to get better, they had to do a lot of work on their own. Dribbling, shooting, those are things that can be done on your own. You can get better in the summertime, doing a lot of work alone.”

D’Andrea said that he had an eager group of kids to work with last week.

“They had a lot of wide-eyed optimism,” D’Andrea said. “That’s why I do this. If one kid can come away with something that they can take home, just one thing, then we’ve done our jobs.”

D’Andrea credited North Arlington athletic director Dave Hutchison for assisting with getting use of the gym for the past week. He also thanked Jim Burrell and his wife, Marie and North Arlington Recreation coordinator Bobby Crudele for their assistance in getting the word out about the camp.

Crudele’s nine-year-old son Shane was one of the campers. Like Torres, the younger Crudele is a fan of the Boston Celtics and Jersey boy Irving. Shane Crudele will be a fourth grader at North Arlington’s Roosevelt School in September.

Shane was asked what he learned more than anything else during the week.

“I learned to keep my eyes up, both defending and dribbling the basketball,” Shane Crudele said. “I also learned to pay more attention to the ball and get down close to the floor to play defense.”
Young Shane is a football player and basketball player.

“I like both sports a lot,” Crudele said. “I go to all the games. When I get to the high school, I’ll be ready, because I learn a lot watching those teams play. This makes me want to get better, because I want to be a player at North Arlington High School some day.”

Daniel Janosek is a 13-year-old who will enter eighth grade at the North Arlington Middle School in September. Already standing 5-foot-10, Janosek has a bright future as an inside player, although Janosek is a Cleveland Cavaliers fan who still can’t get over the fact that the Cavs’ franchise player LeBron James has left and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I’m very, very, very disappointed,” Janosek said. “It was hard to watch them lose (to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals) and it will be harder now that LeBron is gone.”

But Janosek’s favorite player Kevin Love is still with the Cavs.

“I’m going to stick with my team and stick with the sport,” Janosek said.

Janosek was asked what he learned during the camp.

“I learned how to play defense and that’s important,” Janosek said. “It was a fun camp. I learned what I needed to know and it will be easier now for me when I get here.”

Vincent Richard is a 12-year-old player who will enter seventh grade at the North Arlington Middle School in the fall.

“I learned about the proper defensive stance,” Richard said. “I know I definitely have to play defense better.”

Richard is a fan of the reigning NBA champion Warriors and his favorite player is Kevin Durant.

“I’ve liked the Warriors my whole life,” Richard said. “It’s not like it just happened. I love playing basketball. I live right by two courts, so I always go there and play. This was a lot of fun. I hope I can come again next year. I know that if I keep coming, it will definitely help me. It’s already helping me.”

Robert Kairys is Richard’s classmate at the North Arlington Middle School (seventh grade), but Kairys does not have a favorite NBA team.

“I like Notre Dame in college basketball,” Kairys said. “I play basketball just for fun. Baseball is my main sport, but basketball helps me in other sports, especially when I learn the defensive stance.”

Nicholas Bradley is an 11-year-old player who will enter North Arlington Middle School as a sixth grader for the first time in September. Bradley is a Knicks fan and just learned that the team had a Hall of Famer named Bradley, namely Bill Bradley, the former United States Senator from New Jersey. The young man is not related to the superstar Rhodes Scholar who was known as “Dollar Bill.”

“Still, it’s pretty cool that he’s Bradley too,” young Nicholas said. “I like (Kristaps) Porzingis. He has to learn how to play better defense and so do I. I learned how to shuffle my feet, to get into a good defensive position. I’m going to practice what I learned.”

All in all, it was a good week for D’Andrea, assistant coach George Rotondo and the rest of the Vikings, current and future.

“I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from the kids, their parents, other coaches,” D’Andrea said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

And of course, there’s always the development of a young, rising star like Torres.

“This was a great week for me,” Torres said. “I had a lot of fun.”

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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.”