SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Villanova University basketball program, under the leadership of head coach Jay Wright, is unquestionably one of the best in the nation. The Wildcats, who won the NCAA Division 1 Tournament titles in 2016 and 2018 for their first national titles, advanced to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans, La., but lost to the eventual champion, the University of Kansas, in the national semifinals on Saturday, April 2.
Next season, the Wildcats will be getting one of the top players in the country in Mark Armstrong, a 6-foot-2 point guard from South Orange.
Armstrong, who signed with Villanova in November, completed a stellar career at Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,776 points. This season, as a senior, Armstrong averaged 23 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in leading Saint Peter’s Prep to a 23-5 record. The St. Peter’s Prep Marauders were runner-up in the Hudson County Tournament and advanced to the semifinals of the state North Jersey Non-Public A tournament, where they lost to eventual champion Bergen Catholic to end the season. Armstrong scored 19 points in the loss to BC.
Armstrong scored 30 points or more in seven games, with a season-high 42 points in an 83-63 win over North Star Academy on Feb. 16.
Armstrong is ranked as the 45th overall player in the country by 247sports.com.
Saint Peter’s Prep head coach Alex Mirabel, who completed his eighth season at the helm, said it was great to see Armstrong develop into good player throughout his high school career.
“Mark is a unique athlete,” said Mirabel in a phone interview with the News-Record. “He’s only 6-2, but he’s probably one of the most athletic players in the country in his class. His versatility is impressive. The biggest thing for him is that he has gotten better throughout the years. As a freshman, he was small and he started putting on weight. He got quicker. In his sophomore year, he started making some shots, and in his junior year, he put it together and got tougher. And then in his senior year, he had to be the best player on the court, and he proved that in most of the games.”
Armstrong said his experience at Saint Peter’s Prep was memorable, and he thanked Mirabel for his guidance.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Armstrong in a phone interview with the News-Record. “When I came in as a freshman, Coach believed in me from the start. Coming in as a young person, it was a different experience, and to see myself now, and go through that experience, it felt like I just got here. I learned a lot from coach Mirabel. I learned a lot from my teammates, and I learned a lot from the school.”
Armstrong said it was also fun to play with two others from South Orange — 6-7 junior Jackson Tindall and 6-4 senior guard Tyler Lingham. Tindall is being recruited by several mid-major Division I programs.
“I knew Jackson was going to come to the school because his brother went to the school for football,” Armstrong said. “It was just fun playing with him. We were in middle school together. It was a great experience. With Tyler Lingham, (he is) my best friend. We won a championship together in eighth grade. To play with him my last two years, it was amazing. It was a great experience to play with my best friend.”
Mirabel noted that Villanova and Saint Peter’s Prep are very similar in terms of the religious and educational culture.
“I think it’s a great fit,” Mirabel said. “They fit the whole culture of the Catholic school atmosphere that he had here at Saint Peter’s. The family likes the structure, the discipline — and Jay Wright, arguably the best coach in the country, gets the best out of his players. It’s a great fit. He will get better. He’ll have to work hard. It’s not going to be given to him, but he is going to work.”
Armstrong can’t wait to attend Villanova. In addition to having an elite basketball program, Villanova builds character in its students, Armstrong said.
“One thing I like about Villanova is that they make men,” said Armstrong. “The coach, the alumni, the basketball program and the support that they have, it felt like a family.”
Armstrong wants to help Villanova make another deep run at a national title.
“My hopes and goals are to come in and be an impact player there,” he said. “To play for my teammates, to play for the school and try to be the best version of myself.”
Photos Courtesy of Mark Armstrong