Tariq Carey had carved a nice high school basketball career for himself at Newark East Side High School. He was a three-year starter there, a 1,000-point scorer who was the team’s main man and top scorer. He averaged 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game. He was well on his way to becoming a top college prospect, drawing attention from schools like Villanova and Wake Forest.
But Carey ran into some difficulty at his former school and a mentor reached out to St. Anthony to see if the Jersey City basketball powerhouse would adopt a player in his senior year. It was a different kind of transfer request.
Carey headed to St. Anthony, but he had no guarantees of playing time. After all, Carey was an outsider, entering a new world with new teammates and a demanding coach.
“When I first came in, Coach [Bob] Hurley knew of me and the players all embraced my game,” Carey said. “I had to deal with the system and make the most of it. I had to step up when my team mates needed me most.”
Carey didn’t exactly set the world on fire as a bench player for the Friars. He was no longer the top dog. He would no longer be the top scorer, the main shooter. He had to play a supporting role.
“I did what my team mates asked me to do,” Carey said.
It’s safe to say that Carey saved his best for last. In last Tuesday’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title game against Plainfield at the IZOD Center, the Friars’ starting backcourt of Josh Brown and Hallice Cooke ran into some difficulty. Both had foul problems and Brown was in a deep funk.
So Hurley looked down the bench and called out Carey’s name. He sprang right into action and enjoyed his best game in a Friars’ uniform as his last.
Carey played a huge role, scoring 18 crucial points, eight coming in the second quarter alone, helping the Friars to a 66-62 victory, capping the program’s second straight undefeated season and second straight T of C title.
It was the 12th time in the 24-year history of the T of C that the fabulous Friars hoisted a championship trophy, a truly remarkable feat.
It was also the first time ever in the history of the storied St. Anthony program that a team posted consecutive undefeated seasons. The Friars have now won an astounding 65 games in a row.
Senior forward Jerome Frink was the star of the game, scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. All-American do-everything Kyle Anderson was his typical versatile self, scoring 14 points, grabbing six rebounds, blocking five shots, getting four assists and four steals.
But big games are customary from Frink and Anderson. They’re supposed to lead the way. Carey’s contributions were critical and certainly surprising, considering they had been few and far between all season.
“Tariq really picked us up,” Hurley said after the win. “Offensively, he’s a very good player. With the court opening up, he was able to use his instincts and he made some big open shots. No one plays like us. Tariq has always been used to just get going and do his thing. He had to do things a little differently with us. But he made huge plays and made a bunch of shots.”
Carey was asked if it was worth all the sacrifices he had to make, going from being a star in Newark to a reserve with the Friars.
“Of course it was,” Carey said. “I finished my high school career 32-0. It was definitely worth it. I don’t feel like I had to force anything. I knew what my role was. I just stepped in and did what I was supposed to do.”
Frink scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half. He has not declared a college choice yet, but has watched his stock skyrocket this season.
“I just had to calm myself down,” Frink said. “I had to let the game come to me. I just had to get a chance to score and I did. I relied on my teammates to get me the ball.”
St. Anthony won the very first T of C in 1989, won three straight from 1995 through 1997, won consecutive titles in 2001 and 2002 and now have won back-to-back titles last year and this year.
Incredibly, Anderson ends his high school playing days with a record of 93-1 over his final three years, with the lone loss coming at the hands of St. Anthony when he was a sophomore at Paterson Catholic.
“It’s been a great run,” said Anderson, the North Bergen native. “We had a terrific season last year and we all sat in this room [in the IZOD Center] wondering whether we could make it back to win. We didn’t wait to get back to work because we wanted to be here. When you look at it all, it’s pretty cool.”
“He’s been the blood and guts of this team for the last two years,” Hurley said of Anderson. “He’s the player who makes us. He’s the most complete player to ever play in the school.”
It’s quite a compliment, considering Hurley’s eldest son, former Duke All-American Bobby, was always considered to be the best.
The Friars will lose Anderson and Frink to graduation, as well as the latest standout, who saved his best in a St. Anthony uniform for last.
Players like Cooke and Brown will be back, as well as emerging players like Kody Jenkins, Kentrell Brooks and Tarin Smith. The winning tradition will continue on, as long as the white-haired Hall of Fame coach keeps calling the shots.
There was a time where Hurley talked of retirement. That time has passed.
“I’m 64 years old now and you would think there would be some sort of disconnect between me and the players,” Hurley said. “As you might know, I’m not easy to play for.”
One look at the players, including the one-year wonder from Newark, and you would never know it.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.