Mater Dei Prep senior Elijah Barnes remembers being a sixth-grader who loved playing basketball but, as he put it, could "barely run in a straight line without tripping over my own two feet."

Barnes is an example that become a basketball talent is still more about work than about being the tallest kid in the class and Barnes journey from aspiring basketball player to Division I athlete and Ivy Leaguer reached its apex Monday when he signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Princeton University in the fall of 2017.

"It feels good to make it official," Barnes said. "Everything's solidified. There are no more questions. I'm ready to go to Princeton and I'm ready for the next four years."

Barnes, a 6-foot-6 forward-slash-wing, announced his verbal commitment to play for coach Mitch Henderson and the Tigers in the spring and made it official at Mater Dei Prep High School Monday with his family, coaches and teammates present.

"I have loved the game since my dad put a basketball in my hands when I started walking," Barnes said. "I was a six-foot sixth grader with size 14 feet just trying to stay on my feet. It wasn't until eighth grade, when I grew into my body, that I was able to actually be athletic and that's when I started to see the possibility of becoming a Division I player."

This coming season will be the first in which Barnes plays consecutive seasons for one high school. He began his career at Freehold Borough as a freshman on the varsity team, transferred to Central Regional for his sophomore year, and again transferred as a junior shortly after Ben Gamble took the Mater Dei job.

In his first year at Mater Dei in 2015-16, Barnes was a Shore Sports Network second team All-Shore selection while averaging 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for the Shore Conference Tournament champions.

After playing the center and power forward position on a guard-oriented team last year, more roster turnover at Mater Dei will give Barnes a chance to spend more time at the three, which Gamble, Barnes and college coaches alike have agreed better fits his profile at the next level.

"If you play for Mater Dei, it's all about defense," Barnes said. "I've been working a lot of aspects of my game, but above all else, I think you'll see from me what you'll see from everybody on this team and that's that we're going to defend hard."

Barnes said he is also excited about the prospect of becoming an Ivy League student and got a glimpse of the atmosphere on his visits to the Central N.J. campus.

"When you just start a conversation with someone there, you could be talking to someone who is working to cure diseases or solve the world's problems," said Barnes, who said he has on interest in studying Psychology. "It's a really great atmosphere. When you're around those kind of people, it really motivates you to work hard and see what you're capable of."

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