Less than a full day after traveling up north to watch Princeton recruit Spencer Weisz in person for the first time, I was able to make a shorter but equally rewarding trip into Princeton this afternoon to see future Tiger Amir Bell and undefeated East Brunswick face Hashim Moore and 13-4 The Hun School.
My observations and Robert Solomon's photos follow after the jump.
East Brunswick entered Saturday with an average margin of victory around 32 points per game. Their offense is led by Bell at the point guard and NJIT recruit Rob Ukawuba in the backcourt.
Hun has used Moore as a defensive stopper this season and Moore drew the assignment of guarding Ukawuba, not his future teammate.
Moore was once described to me as having "a Big East body" and that is certainly true. He's a large, muscular guard. What's still unclear is if he can score and/or if he can shoot. Against East Brunswick, Moore rarely looked for his own opportunities and never attempted a jump shot. It wasn't selflessness but it also wasn't reluctance.
That said, a proper word eludes me.
Bell by comparison is a long, lean guard. It is hard to look at the way he brings the ball up the floor with his head staring forward and his body low and not think of how a sinewy Sydney Johnson appeared when he first arrived at Princeton.
To be very clear, that is NOT to say they are similar players. Their bodies are just cut from a similar mold.
It is also extremely easy to forget while watching him that Bell is still just a junior in high school and he won't be joining Princeton until September 2014. He's always in control and his passes were almost uniformly right into a fellow Bear's hands at a speed where they could be utilized.
With Mitch Henderson and Princeton assistant Marcus Jenkins watching from the stands, Bell pulled up for a three at the top of the arc for his first bucket, with Moore curling to the hoop and laying in a pass soon thereafter. It seemed like both were in for strong offensive days but that proved to not be the case.
Hun was able to slow the tempo to their liking and play a measured brand of basketball.
East Brunswick likes to get the ball in Bell's hands setting up other jump shooters on the perimeter and while they were able to connect with frequency in the first half Hun limited fast break opportunities and matched them throughout.
Moore had trouble containing Ukawuba, who hit a pair of three pointers and a duo of midrange jumpers in the game's nascent moments.
Some of the nicest defensive recognitions Bell had did not result in anything but his awareness to pick off a pass intended from a Hun player to the wing could not be turned before he skimmed the sideline.
The score was even at 15 after one quarter. Bell was 1-2 from the field with an assist. Moore 1-1 with a steal he went to the floor to contain.
The open of the second quarter gave me a decent idea of what each player is like. Bell drove left and found teammate Gary Baumer stepping into a far three. Moore barreled over his defender in the paint trying to post and was called for an offensive foul. Next Bell drove to his right and the same play had success in the form of a jumper from the opposite corner.
Bell came up short with a three from the left wing as part of a designed play. The only attempt he had I wasn't crazy about was a contested three from the top of the arc that he needn't have tried.
East Brunswick was able to construct a 25-21 lead by the break, as Bell shot 1-4 (3) with three asissts and a rebound. Moore went to the bench late in the first quarter to have a cut on his leg looked at and played sparingly in the second quarter, 1-1 from the floor (2) with a steal and a turnover.
When play resumed Bell was called for reaching inside the arms of a Hun player with the ball and before any time could come off the clock picked up his third personal for holding on an inbounds cut. Saddled with three personals, Bell stayed on the floor.
Bell's first turnover was not his fault. A teammate stepping out for a three point look slipped on the hardwood and fell to the ground, Bell's pass going where he should have been.
Moore finally drove to his right, drawing a whistle and converting both free throws. One of my seat-mates mentioned Moore was not supposed to be a very good free throw shooter but both his attempts were pure.
Bell matched Moore's drive after picking up a slapped out three point try and was fouled, splitting his free throws.
East Brunswick threw a 1-3-1 at Hun with Bell on the far side of the middle line of defense.
Moore in the center of this zone got a second personal pushing Ukawuba.
Combination passing by the Bears saw Bell on one block feed Jake Krantz for a layup.
Bell's second turnover was the result of some more good hustle, diving full body to get a rebound off the floor but then throwing his pass from his back into the bleachers.
Bell added a touch pass to a curling teammate and drove to his right with the ball, converting a pair of free throws after a whistle in the air. Bell received his first rest for the final minutes of the third quarter, avoiding a fourth personal but standing and clapping the entire time as East Brunswick reached the game's homestretch with a 32-27 lead.
I had Bell with 1-4 shooting overall, 1-3 from three point range, 3-4 on free throws with five assists, two turnovers, two rebounds and three personals.
Moore was 1-1 to this point, 2-2 with free throws along with a steal, a turnover and two offensive fouls resulting in personals.
Another tiny Bell moment I enjoyed at the start of the fourth quarter: Bell found himself mismatched versus a Hun big man in the post but went under his arm to slide in front of a feed and tip the entry away.
However, Bell then picked up his fourth personal when he was called for pushing off on a drive to his right.
Hun stood within 37-33 with Bell on the bench but his teammates rose to the occasion, starting a game-ending 12-0 run.
A pass to Moore inside went off his hands. Moore on a drive split two defenders and was fouled before he could go up, missing the front end of a one-and-one.
Moore and Bell did not face off for almost the entire game but Moore pressuring Bell in the backcourt fouled him and Bell made one of two free throws.
Moore spun into the lane but left a teardrop short, getting Hun the ball back as his pressure caused Bell to step on the baseline.
Bell capped his afternoon by picking an errant lob pass out of the air and leading a two on one push the other way - assist number six.
East Brunswick will head into their showdown with top-ranked St. Anthony's undefeated, sporting a 15-0 mark. The Bears forced 24 turnovers as Hun committed six offensive fouls.
Moore shot 1-2 with 2-3 free throws to total four points. He also had a steal, two turnovers, two personals and no rebounds I recall.
Bell was 1-4 overall, his only non-three point attempt was a blocked pull up jumper. He was 1-3 behind the arc, 4-6 on free throws for seven points. Bell added six assists, a steal, three turnovers, three rebounds and four personals.
Conclusions, based on a very small sample size:
It is easy to see why the Princeton coaching staff was so ecstatic about Bell's commitment. They were able to convince him to come to Princeton before teams out of the Atlantic 10 (and similar) started seriously courting him. He's a very good but not flashy passer, can run an offense and seems sound on defense. He has length and is slender without being weak. There wasn't a lot he did wrong and he and Ukawuba are an ace high school backcourt.
Moore is enigmatic on first blush. He has such a strong body but doesn't seem to want to use it. A seat-mate who saw Hun versus Princeton Day School last week said his performance was similar against PDS. That said, his strength and his size are intriguing. He's most certainly a different category of player than Princeton has currently or in their next freshman class. I'd really like to watch another Raiders game to see if this single outing was abnormal or where he truly is as a player currently.
Let's be honest. The real star of the day might have been Ukawuba's eye-melting sock/shoe combination.