This is a guest post by Ronak Patel.
Despite enjoying an impressive freshman season at Princeton University, sophomore point guard Amir Bell is not content.
Bell is getting a jump start on the coming season by playing in the inaugural Victory Sports Pro-Am Summer Basketball League, which begins play June 16 on the campus of the Hun School in Princeton, a mere five miles from the Tigers’ campus.
The league consists of eight teams divided into two divisions that play a 14-game regular season. The league’s top teams will then compete for the League Championship in a best-of-three series. Bell, who started all 30 games for the Tigers this past season averaging 8.8 ppg, is excited for the chance to play in the inaugural tournament.
“I’m looking forward to it, it should be fun,” Bell said. “It always good to go against top competition; I think it will be helpful to play against that type of competition and it helps you get ready for the season.”
The league director is former Seton Hall standout Bryan Caver and he has attracted players from the Division I to Division III and even a couple of pros, including former Rider University star and current NBA Sacramento Kings player Jason Thompson.
Princeton men’s head coach Mitch Henderson believes playing in the league will have tremendous merit for Bell.
“Players are made in the summer time,” Henderson said. “He’s playing against tremendous competition and the best players from the local area. For Amir to be a local kid and playing in the league, it’s very beneficial for him. I think it outstanding him and the other players will get exposure this summer. There will be outstanding players and the games will be competitive.”
Bell will have three members from Princeton’s incoming freshman class on his team: 6’7 forward Noah Bramlage (Ottawa-Glandorf; Glandorf, Ohio), 6’1 guard Devin Cannady (Mishawaka Marian; Mishawaka, Ind.), and 6’4 guard Myles Stephens (St. Andrew’s (Del.), Lawrenceville, N.J.).
The chance to play with his new teammates is vital to Bell’s development, according to Henderson.
“I’m interested in how he influences them and especially with the way we do things here at Princeton,” Henderson said. “We have a way here and everyone must be on the same page.”
The summer games can be a great teaching mechanism for Bell as he continues to mature into a collegiate point guard and a leader on and off the court for the Tigers.
“Oftentimes, your best players nowadays are young freshman and sophomores, so they are thrust into a leadership role early,” Henderson said. “Amir is a little more reserve in nature but on the court the best players can be either vocal or reserve.”
Bell echoed his coach’s words on developing chemistry with the incoming freshman.
“It’s definitely important getting a feel for your new teammates,” Bell said. “And especially coming from high school to college, there’s an adjustment period so playing in the summer league helps in that regard.”
Last season it was Bell making the jump, and he cited his more experienced teammates for helping him transition to the college game after a stellar high school career at East Brunswick High School in East Brunswick, N.J.
“My freshman year, I learned a lot from more experienced players like Spencer [Weisz] and Hans [Brase],” Bell said. “They taught me good habits; make sure I got in the gym before and after practice and working on different aspects of my game.”
Henderson coach believes Bell is ready to take the next steps necessary to become a great point guard.
“As a point guard, you have to talk to each other and ensure the message is heard by all of your teammates,” Henderson said. “Amir is a natural leader and we’re expecting big things from him this season. You must forget about your freshman season and know what you have to do to make yourself better. Amir knows what he has to do to make himself better coming into his sophomore season.”
Bell knows what he has to do to be even better as a sophomore.,
“In college I learned more about the game, how to pick my spots more when I’m driving and become a better decision maker,” he said. “As a point guard you want to become a great leader, so I’m working on my communication and if you improve on those aspects, you can become a good point guard.”
Bell did a lot things well his freshman season: He scored in double figures 13 times, his assist to turnover ratio of 1.6 was good for seventh best in the Ivy League, and his 77 assists were the most by a Princeton freshman since 2007 and good for second on the team.
But Bell did lead the team in personal fouls with 102 and shot just 29 percent on three-pointers (13 makes on 45 attempts).
“I need to continue to stay strong with the ball, keep our turnovers low, work on my mid-range and pull-up game,” Bell said. “But I know I need to improve my three point percentage and play defense without fouling; getting my body stronger will help me defensively.”
Having Bell play at a high level is a key for Princeton in an increasingly competitive Ivy League.
“I don’t think people realize how tough the Ivy is,” Bell said. “It’s really deep and teams play good style of basketball. We also play Friday-Saturday nights, back to back which is really tough… On any given night, any team can get a win. You have Harvard and Yale that’ve been top of the league the last couple of years. Columbia and Dartmouth are good. They are all good teams. If you’re not focused, it will be a loss. It’s a 14-game tournament and you have to try and win every one.”
The Tigers finished last season on a four-game winning streak and finished third in the Ivy League with a 9-5 mark and 16-14 overall. Harvard and Yale tied for first with 11-3 marks (Harvard represented the Ivy in the NCAA Tournament by virtue of their 53-51 win over Yale in a playoff game).
Princeton hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011 but the Tigers have high expectations coming into season, as they returning their top four scorers: junior forward Spencer Weisz (11.6 ppg), senior forward Hans Brase (11.5 ppg), junior forward Steven Cook (10.4 ppg) and Bell.
“We had pretty high expectations for ourselves – we started off pretty slow and lost a bunch of games throughout the year we should’ve won,” Bell said. “But I think we were a young team and the last 10 games we learned how to finish games strong and we gelled great. We played better defense. I think if we can carry that momentum to next season it will be big.”
Bell committed to Princeton before his junior season and turned down overtures from several schools, and he has fallen in love with the campus and playing for the program.
“I fell in love with their tradition, and they have a great tradition of winning Ivy League championships,” Bell said. “We have a great young coaching staff that pushes us to get better. I love the way we play; the way they move the ball and very unselfish.”
Henderson believes strongly in his talented young playmaker and knows the time is now for him to become the lynchpin for a potential NCAA tournament contending team.
“It’s time for Amir to be a leader,” Henderson said. “He went through every phase as a freshman and prospered as the season went on. The summer league games will help him towards getting him ready for this season.”