Jerome Frink knows he'll be asked frequently enough to step up and earn his senior stripes this season as one of only two starters back from St. Anthony's victorious Tournament of Champions team.
Yesterday, though, the senior forward never waited for a take-charge order from head coach Bob Hurley as he took the floor Sunday evening to battle Trenton Catholic in the Hoop Group Tip-Off Showcase at West Orange High.
It seems the talented 6-6 forward not only has a strong presence in the lane and a tenacious streak on defense, but also a very long memory to go along with his athletic qualities.
Fourteen months ago in Toms River, in Frink's sophomore year, that same Trenton Catholic dealt St. Anthony a 57-56 loss in the NJSIAA Non-Public B final. All that time--even though bridged by a 33-0 season and national title last season for St. Anthony--did nothing to soften Frink's hostility.
Delayed as it was, Frink made good on his solitary promise by compiling 15 points, 10 rebounds and two steals to pace a 53-33 victory in this MSG Varsity Top 15 battle.
"I was trying to get revenge for my sophomore year when they beat us in the state finals," Frink said. "This game was very personal. I just had to get them back for that."
Frink's quest would likely have been made substantially easier were St. Anthony's premier player, UCLA-bound senior guard Kyle Anderson, on the floor with Frink to start things. The 6-9 Anderson and fellow starter Tariq Carey were both kept out of the game for the first 5:06 as disciplinary action for late arrivals to practice the previous two days.
"I'm from the (Giants head coach) Tom Coughlin school of keeping time," Hurley said. "Two o'clock means 1:45, not 2:15. and 9 o'clock yesterday means 8:45, not 9:15."
The absence of Anderson and Carey gave both sophomore guard Tarin Smith a call-up from the JV for a surprising start and Frink the opportunity to put his leadership skills to a stern test against the No. 13 team in The MSG Varsity rankings. St. Anthony (2-0), now riding a 35-game winning streak, is No. 1 and also ranked No. 8 nationally in USA Today.
Frink's versatility and toughness were both on display early as he scored four points and added three rebounds and a block to send the Friars to 12-5 first-quarter lead. Frink had 10 points and six rebounds and also drew two charges to help his squad move in front, 28-11.
"Jerome is a much better player if he can put shot or two up early," Hurley said. "With Kyle not being in the game, and Tariq not being in the game, we were definitely going to go to him early. Had a couple shots, felt good about himself. He's such a long, physical, tough kid that when you get him going like that, he's a tough matchup."
The matchup became all the more difficult for Trenton Catholic (1-1) when its Penn State-bound senior forward, 6-8 Brandon Taylor, left with his second foul just 2:52 into the game, and Anderson entered for St. Anthony minutes later. He experienced early foul trouble, himself, sitting the last 2:44 of the first half, but still managed to contribute 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Pretty fair production from a non-starter.
"It was pretty weird, but I just had to adjust to it," Anderson said. "But it wasn't really a big deal."
St. Anthony built its lead to 34-11 early in the third quarter on jumpers by Frink and Jimmy Hall and two free throws from Joshua Brown. Taylor left at the end of that 6-0 spurt with his fourth foul and would not return for the remainder of the period.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to a laugher. Senior Charles Cooke buried a 3-pointer, junior Amir Maddrid hit two free throws and suddenly Trenton Catholic was finding its rhythm. It closed to within 36-20 and then narrowed the gap to nine when freshman reserve Malachi Richardson drew an intentional foul while scoring on a driving layup with 2:22 left in the quarter. He hit both free throws and then drained a long 3-pointer from the right wing off the ensuing inbound.
"Welcome to high school basketball," Hurley said. "We had total control of the game and then, boom, in a moment there we had to function again. And it was good for us. Being able to fight back and wind up winning again by 20 means we had to build a 20-point lead twice today."
Fittingly, it was Frink who snapped that 13-0 run on a putback for a 38-27 lead with 1:16 left in the quarter. Nazir Chew hit a free throw 15 seconds later, but Trenton Catholic's tank was emptying quickly. The Friars scored the first 11 points of the fourth period, four by Anderson, to grab a 49-28 advantage.
Hurley said he was pleased with his club's overall defensive effort and its ability to absorb body punches and then answer with a knockout. And the Hall of Famer's pupils seem to understand that a gutsy, though somewhat uneven performance like this will pay dividends later in the season.
"We like situations like this," Anderson said. "That's why we do all that running in practice, for four quarters of basketball."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS