Spencer Weisz brought a reputation as a heady player to the table in joining the Princeton University men’s basketball team this winter.
During his senior season at Seton Hall Prep in 2012-13, Weisz averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals on the way to earning second-team New Jersey All-State honors.
Stepping into the starting lineup at Princeton from day one this season, Weisz has focused on honing his basketball IQ.
“I just wanted to come in and play within the offense and stay solid on defense,” said the 6’4, 180-pound Weisz, a native of Florham Park.
“I think the detailed scouting report helps a lot. The coaches do a great job of preparing us in the practices before games. It allows me to really understand what is going to come. The ability to know ahead of time really benefits myself and the team as a whole.”
Last Saturday, Weisz showed the benefits of that detailed preparation, achieving his first college double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds as Princeton topped Fairleigh Dickinson 77-65 before 1,952 at Jadwin Gym.
Coming into the game, Weisz was looking to hit the boards. “I just want to stay aggressive offensively and defensively,” said Weisz, who is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game in his debut campaign and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his effort against FDU.
“I struggled with boxing out a little bit in the beginning but some of our key rebounders are out right now so you just want to step up and be where the opportunity is present.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson acknowledged that the precocious Weisz is progressing even faster than he had hoped.
“I knew he was a good player but I think I underestimated his ability to get to the rim and make tough layups,” said Henderson, whose team extended its winning streak and improved to 6-1 with the win over the Knights.
“What is important is that he listens. When we say this is important, he is right there with you. He doesn’t like it when you tell him he has done something wrong, which is a good thing. I say he is an underrated passer, he makes people better, similar to T.J. [Bray].”
With Princeton missing Bray and Jimmy Sherburne, who weren’t allowed to compete on Saturday due to violations of athletic department rules, it did a few things wrong against FDU as it went on a 12-3 run to build a 36-28 halftime lead and then started the second half by outscoring the Knights 21-10 to break the game open.
“I think they understood what we wanted them to do on offense and defense but they needed to be on the court to understand it,” said Henderson.
“I think that is when it started clicking. FDU does some tricky things on defense. You have to keep your composure which I thought we did nicely. Spencer was getting some drives to the basket and some kick-outs. I think it was just moving the ball.”
Junior forward Denton Koon was on the ball against the Knights, scoring 18 points with six rebounds and three assists.
“Denton established himself inside a few times and then we had a huge 3 from Denton in the corner which I thought was a really nice play,” said Henderson, whose team will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at Rutgers on December 11 and at Penn State on December 14.
“I thought he was terrific tonight. It reminded me of Denton last year. He is a very, very difficult matchup. He banged two 3s, so he is versatile. I thought he brought a lot of balance to our team tonight. He had some huge offensive rebounds as well.”
Koon, for his part, gained rhythm from his work in the paint. “I had a lot of opportunities near the rim and I got myself going a little bit,” said Koon. “We had some open slips to the rim and that helps to get a couple of easy looks.”
With Princeton off to its best start since the 1997-98 season, when it was 7-0 through seven games, Koon likes the way things are looking for the Tigers.
“We are moving the ball really well; I am excited with the way we are playing,” said Koon.
“Since I have been here, this is definitely the best we have felt early in the season. We are playing together, playing as a team; it just feels good. A lot of guys are contributing well to the system. We feel good about the way things are going right now.”
In Weisz’s view, the Tigers’ intelligent play in the second half against FDU exemplified the team’s ability to run its system.
“Everyone’s ability to see the floor and read cuts showed tonight,” said Weisz.
“I think that contributed a lot to the second half run. We were able to get some open 3s and some timely baskets and we were able to push the lead to a point where we didn’t want to let up but it was a little more comfortable.”