Preseason signs point to much better 2022-23 season for NA boys’ basketball team

With a new head coach and several first-year varsity players, this preseason represents a clean slate and a fresh beginning for the North Arlington boys’ basketball team.

And while the Vikings have turned the page from the struggles of the past, coach Marcus Jimenez does sometimes need to reference last year’s trying 2-22 record as a reminder of the on-going changes that need to be made.

“Occasionally I’ll bring it up when we’re in practice when players slack off a little bit or lose focus,” said Jimenez. “I just quickly remind them that the better teams, the good teams, the elite teams, this is what they’re doing (in practice). We gotta put in the work in order to get the reward.”

Rewards like an appearance in Bergen County Jamboree, a division title or a home state playoff game might seem distant after winning five or fewer games in each of the past six seasons. But if the preseason is any indication, the depth and the talent to be better in 2022-23 is there, especially as Jimenez has seen this group buy into his top priorities – improving leadership and communication.

“They’re getting out of their comfort zone little by little,” Jimenez said. “I really emphasize communication day in and day out, leadership day in and day out. Those are the two things I’ve been harping on and the players are starting to get it.

“They’ve all been putting in the work, they’ve all been buying in. But when we’re faced with adversity, what’s going to happen and who’s going to provide that leadership. We’re going to be young, but we can’t be dysfunctional.”

Jimenez’s squad has already faced some adversity as it has been without the services of point guard Sean McGeehan, who led the team in assists and steals last season and is working his way back from injury.

With McGeehan out of the lineup, the leading returning scorer from a season ago is junior Vincent Richard, a 5-foot-10 wing, who flashed some potential as an outside shooter last year.

Kyle Villani is another returning player with varsity experience and on a team with little size and no true forwards, at 6-foot-1, he and fellow senior Daniel Janosek (6-foot-2) will likely have to do their fair share of dirty work in the paint against bigger opponents.

Likely starting in the backcourt are two very promising underclassmen in freshman Jesse Calfayan (5-foot-10) and sophomore Justin Bunnell. Calfayan has already shown a willingness to attack off the dribble while also hitting shots from the outside, while Bunnell has helped fill the void at the point in McGeehan’s absence.

Jimenez said he’s unafraid to turn to his bench. Juniors Jaydon Morales, who has been one of the surprises in the preseason, Adam Gabr and Ibrahim Gabr are all set for big roles off the bench, each of the three capable of stretching the defense with their shooting.

Junior Declan Hughes is another one who will be in the mix for minutes after seeing some time last season, as well as sophomore guard Liam Raftery and senior forward Bernie Pimentel, who at 6-foot-1 has the potential to be a high-level rebounder for the Vikings.

“I want players to be uncommon players,” Jimenez said. “They’re giving up the shot (for the extra pass), they’re getting deflections, charges, rebounds, steals. They’re communicating and being leaders. The uncommon player, that’s the player we’re trying to build at North Arlington.”

North Arlington opens the season at home on Thursday, Dec. 15 against Saddle Brook at 7 p.m., then welcomes Weehawken for a noon tip off on Dec. 17. The Vikings will also host the William Ferguson Holiday Tournament, which starts on Dec. 27 and also features Belleville, Bergen Tech and University Academy Charter of Jersey City.

“They’re starting to pick each other up here and there. But we don’t have forever to get this job rolling,” said Jimenez. “We have a finite amount of time to be the time we want to be.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)