Summer work paying off for North Arlington boys basketball

The North Arlington boys basketball team had its own version of summer school this past June, July and August only the classrooms were at basketball courts all throughout North Jersey.

Between leagues in Paterson, Bayonne and Ramapo College, second year head coach Marcus Jimenez estimates that this group played 30 games together this summer. Many of those games came against larger schools as the emphasis was placed on improving and getting his young roster prepared for the winter, more than wins and losses.

“I think playing in the offseason was one of the biggest things that we needed to do,” said Jimenez. “Yeah, we are going to struggle (in some of these games) and that’s part of the growth process.”

The high school season is only a few days old, but if the first two games are any indication, the work in the summer is certainly paying off.

The Vikings opened this season with a 66-44 victory at Saddle Brook this past Thursday, then two days later, they followed it up with a 56-40 win over Hawthorne Christian.

“We played a lot of games, but the objective was for the freshmen that were going to be playing varsity and for the sophomores that were going to be playing varsity to get their JV year in the summer,” Jimenez said. “So now, when they come up to the varsity level, they’re like ‘alright, okay, I got some varsity experience.”

That experience has proven valuable already as eight different players are averaging at least five points per game this season.

Leading that balanced approach has 6-foot-3 sophomore wing Jesse Calfayan at 14 points per game. Calfayan, who emerged as one of North Arlington’s top players as a freshman last year, is poised to be one of the NJIC’s top players.

“Jesse’s starting to become a two-level scorer,” said Jimenez. “He can score from outside, he can score from inside. But one thing that’s underrated is his ability to pass to ball to open guys.

Junior guard Justin Bonnell is another starter who has made significant strides since last season. Thursday’s opener saw Bonnell score a career-high 13 points.

Joining them in the backcourt is senior Ibrahim Gabr, who plays bigger than his listed height of 5-foot-11 and has emerged as a team leader.

With North Arlington missing two key contributors on Saturday, Gabr and fellow senior starter Jayden Morales delivered 10 and 12 points respectively.

“Everyone stepped up,” Jimenez said. “There was not one person feeling bad or anything like that (because we were down two guys). Everybody was being a leader and that’s what I stress, that’s what the program stresses. When one guy goes down, we all step up.”

Junior Christopher Sousa has stepped up to become the starting center for a North Arlington team that, while bigger than last year, does not have a traditional big to use inside.

Senior Vincent Richard, who averaged 8.4 points per game last season, is a source of instant offense and shooting as is junior Liam Ratery.

Sophomore center Aiden Manna has been the first forward off the bench and could very well see starter’s minutes depending on the matchup. Seniors Luca Ziakos and Adam Gabr provided added depth in the front court

Joey Lunelli, a sophomore, and Adam Janosek are also vying for time for the Vikings.

North Arlington looked to continue its winning ways on Monday night at Bard High School in Newark before a Tuesday night showdown with defending NJIC National Division champion Weehawken.

The Vikings will also host Rutherford on Thursday night before the annual William Ferguson Memorial Tournament on Dec. 27-28. Belleville, Bergen County Tech and University Academy Charter of Jersey City round out the tournament field.

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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.)