The North Arlington High School boys’ basketball team has sputtered out of the gates amid the new-fangled season due to the regulations and restrictions placed upon high school sports due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
After the late start, the Vikings have lost all four of their games so far.
But that hasn’t discouraged head coach Marcello D’Andrea one iota.
“First and foremost, the kids have great desire to play,” D’Andrea said. “We knew it was going to be a little tough. We were returning only two starters and both are 5-foot-5.”
The Vikings suffered a big loss when Sean Manzo suffered a leg injury during soccer season that will keep him on the sidelines for the entire basketball season. They lost another key player who was kept out of action due to the concerns caused by COVID.
But D’Andrea remains upbeat.
“I am optimistic that we can be playing our best basketball before the end of the season,” D’Andrea said. “It’s all part of the process. Even though the results aren’t there, I think we’ve been making strides in terms of team chemistry. They’re getting a feel for each other. We’re working on situational stuff. We’re grasping the idea of better man-to-man defense. I don’t want them to get down too far. I want to build them up.”
However, the competitive side of D’Andrea is evident.
“No, I’m not a happy camper now,” D’Andrea said. “I’m doing my due diligence to make the team better. We subscribed to Hudl (the renowned video service) to break down every game. We know we are trying to get to the basket more and get to the free throw line. But the kids compete. They play hard. I’m happy to coach these kids. They’re a good bunch of kids.”
Leading the returnees is senior guard Joey Witt. The talented 5-foot-6 three-sport standout Witt (football, basketball, baseball) averaged eight points per game last season as the team’s shooting guard.
“He can play the 1 (point guard) if he has to,” D’Andrea said. “He’s the catalyst of the offense. Joey has to be on the floor. He brings the intensity and fire to the team. He’s the type of kid you want to have on the team. He’s the cog who makes the engine go.”
Another returnee is 5-foot-5 point guard Fernando Baez.
“He’s our best assist guy,” D’Andrea said. “He is our best ball handler. He transferred to us from Union City last year and saw some time with the varsity.”
Senior Pete Ziakos is another three-sport standout, playing in the same three sports as his buddy Witt. The 5-foot-11 Ziakos, a power forward, returns to basketball this season after giving indoor track a try last year.
“He wanted to come back and be part of a team,” D’Andrea said. “He’s a real good kid who plays hard. He has emerged as one of a leader. He’s an adequate rebounder. He’s a big, tough kid who is a space eater in the middle.”
Junior small forward Oscar Torres is a 5-foot-9 sharpshooter.
“He’s probably our best shooter,” D’Andrea said. “He’s a good slasher who gets to the basket. He can knock down the three (3-point shot). He’s a long kid. He just needs to get a little stronger.”
Sophomore Daniel Janosek is a 5-foot-10 forward who joins the basketball team after a successful season with the soccer team.
“He has some basketball talent,” D’Andrea said. “He can hit the 12-to-15-foot jump shot. He’s blending in well with the others.”
Janosek missed the early part of the season due to COVID related issues.
Senior Hazan Mohamed is a 5-foot-10 power forward.
“We need him for his senior leadership,” D’Andrea said. “The younger kids look up to him.”
Junior Will Hannan is a 5-foot-10 forward.
“He’s a big strong kid with long arms,” D’Andrea said. “We’re developing his game around the basket.”
If D’Andrea has a reason to be optimistic about the future, it’s the fact that the junior varsity team has won two of its games thus far and the freshman team is off to a 4-0 start.
“The underclassmen are playing well,” D’Andrea said. “The JV team is making great strides. They won a triple overtime game against Weehawken and also beat Harrison. The freshmen are playing very well. So we should be okay in the future.”
Some of the younger players include junior guard Shane Gilchrist, junior forward Iker Bouzas, junior guard Ben Castro, sophomore guard Kyle Villani and sophomore guard Kenny Jaramillo. If they play well on the lower levels, maybe they will get moved up to see some varsity time.
So as it stands now, the Vikings might be struggling, but the optimism is there.
“My motto is, ‘It’s time to get back to the grind and keep our chins up,’” D’Andrea said. “That’s my philosophy.”
The Vikings’ next three games are against Wallington, Secaucus and Rutherford in the new-fangled North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Division 4 alignment, another item caused by COVID. Each team in the Division 4 plays each other twice. Incredibly, because of COVID shutdowns Rutherford has yet to play.
The North Arlington boys’ basketball team counts a ton on their two little big men, namely seniors Joey Witt (left) and Fernando Baez (right). Photos by Jim Hague
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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.”