NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The West Essex boys basketball team is having one of its best seasons in recent history in major part due to junior Justin Waack, the unsung hero of the squad who said he has been working every day both on and off the court.

The junior has grown alongside a squad that has less than a handful of seniors on the roster this year. Waack took his lumps as a sophomore in 2019, but has emerged as one of the key leaders on the squad in 2020.

“I really had to step up as a leader for the team because everyone trusts me and everything I do,” said Waack. “It’s like the team follows me and listens to what I say.”

Sign Up for West Essex Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The guard has easily gained the trust of his teammates by proving his worth on the court, currently leading the team in steals.

“I always get a lot of steals,” he said. “I’m pretty quick, so it helps.”

Waack also finds numerous other ways to propel the squad to victory, as he is currently is third on the team in points, blocks, assists and three-pointers made.

“I feel like the coaches rely on me,” said Waack. “I have a big part to play and I think I really stepped up this year.”

The junior’s skills were on display when the squad took on Belleville last week. Despite the Knights’ 63-51 defeat, Waack kept the group in the game with 17 points while also checking the box of every major stat category.

“I think I played pretty well,” he said. “I hit four threes, and I was shooting well and kept us in the game.”

The junior has seemingly found his stride as the season rolls on, averaging double digits in scoring over the last four contests.

“I am driving really well now and my shot is back,” said Waack.

His current status as third on the team in assists is in major part due to the chemistry he has formed with teammate Chris Corbo, who leads the team in scoring. The duo has formed a solid pick-and-roll combination that has helped West Essex go on countless scoring runs.

“Me and [Corbo], we’re a good duo,” said Waack. “We have a really good bond together.”

Although this is one of the Knights’ better seasons in recent years, Waack and his teammates are not yet satisfied.

A simple approach at getting better every day has continued to resonate as the season nears its conclusion. The Knights are currently looking to get back on a winning run after losing three of the last four games.

“Personally, I feel like we all have to start working harder in practice because I feel like we don’t take it as serious as we should and that’s why we have some pretty bad losses,” said Waack.

Waack, a two-sport athlete, is also a notable member of the school’s baseball team. Although he is currently focusing on his basketball season, Waack has clearly identified a goal of becoming one of North Jersey’s top dual athletes in 2020.

“I want to try and make first or second team All-Conference every year for each sport,” said Waack.

Currently standing at 10-7 overall, the Knights will look to continue building on their recent success with Waack and others leading the way.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing—keep shooting, keep playing hard every step of the way,” said Waack.

The Knights will take on neighboring rival James Caldwell on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in West Caldwell.