Belleville’s Bey: Emerging as a leader

As the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic started to linger through the summer months, Belleville High School junior Nasir Bey wondered whether there would even be a basketball season to worry about.

“I was a little concerned,” Bey said. “I was told that my junior year was the most important year of my high school days. I was concerned that there wasn’t going to be a season to play.”

But Bey kept an open mind throughout the tough times.

“It was definitely tough, but I would go out and find an open court to shoot around,” Bey said. “I had to try to stay ready if we were going to have a season.”

Bey had a solid sophomore year last year for the Buccaneers, who 19 games and captured a share of the Super Essex Conference-Independence Division title last year.

But this year remained a different challenge for Bey.

“I definitely had a lot to prove from last year,” Bey said. “I played well off of Hector (leading scorer Hector Castro), but this year, I felt like I had to take over his role a little and be the leader.”

Even though the 6-foot-2 Bey is only a junior, veteran head coach Jim Catalano was counting on Bey to be the team’s leader this season.

“His improvement from freshman year to sophomore year was really impressive,” Catalano said. “What really impressed me was that Nas learned how to shoot a jump shot. He’s become a classic jump shooter and can still drive the lane. Last year, he was a secondary option, because we had Castro. Now, he’s become the primary option. He can take it to the basket. He’s athletic and quick.”

Bey has also become instrumental without the ball.

“He’s become the most vocal player we have on the floor,” Catalano said. “He’s taken the advice that his teammates are not his friends. I told him that if anyone on the floor makes an honest mistake to let them know. We’re looking for that kind of appreciation of the game.”

Bey said that it wasn’t a hard transformation becoming the outspoken leader.

“I know some of the other guys look up to me,” Bey said. “It’s not really hard being the leader. I have to set a good example for others and if I do, then the rest will follow. When we win games, it becomes easier.”

When Bey performs at a high level, it’s also a snap. And that’s what Bey has done this year, leading the Buccaneers in scoring most nights.

Bey had 12 points and nine rebounds in a loss to Bloomfield, then had 15 points against Millburn, 16 points against Sinai Christian, 20 points against Eagle Academy and 12 points and 10 rebounds in a thrilling 38-37 win over Livingston last Saturday.

For his efforts, Bey has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Catalano said that he has a good relationship with Bey.

“It’s not a relationship based on fear,” Catalano said. “It’s based on respect. He comes down the floor and looks over to see what we want to run. We sometimes clear the floor and let him go. He wants to be in the position to be the leader. He’s matured as a kid and as a player. He’s a great kid.”

And Catalano said that Bey has developed as a player.

“The other day, we played a game and after the game, he was out there practicing his free throws,” Catalano said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s the kid that I send a text to so that other players on the team get the message. He’s just a great kid.”

Bey knows that his role is to be a do-everything guard.

“I want to be the one who is most versatile on the team,” Bey said. “I want to be the one who can score and get rebounds, do a little bit of everything.”

Bey wants to be a college basketball player.

“I definitely want to play college ball,” Bey said.”It’s still up in the air right now. I’m just making a name for myself right now. There’s always room to improve. If I can score a little more, that would help.”

Catalano is pleased that Bey is only a junior.

“That’s right, I get to keep him for another year,” Catalano said. “He’s a consummate teammate. Everyone loves him. He wants to do what’s best for the team. He has a great attitude. And his smile is addicting. He just loves to be out there playing.”

“I’m just glad to be out there playing ball,” Bey said. “It’s a good feeling to be playing.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”