Mark Armstrong Q&A

Updated: Jun 11

New Jersey native, highly-touted combo-guard and recent Villanova commit Mark Armstrong should provide an instant impact for Jay Wright’s program when he arrives on campus in 2022. Armstrong currently attends St. Peter’s Prep (NJ), and plays for the New Heights Lightning (NY) on the Nike EYBL circuit.

His two-way versatility and athleticism immediately stand out when evaluating Armstrong. He also brings scoring diversity, tough finishing ability, primary creating, leadership, and ball-stopping ability on the defensive end. He is the first commit for Villanova in the class of 2022.

In this interview, Armstrong discusses what led him to make his final decision and peels back the curtain a bit for Villanova fans in order to provide an idea of what they’re getting in Mark Armstrong the person, not just the basketball player.

For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect Mark Armstrong, from South Orange, New Jersey:

Pro Insight: How did you get to where you are today?

Mark Armstrong: I’m from South Orange, New Jersey. I have an older sister who went to Hampton University. I have two parents. I’d say my background is basketball — my dad played basketball and my mom was a cheerleader for my dad at St. Peter’s Prep. I went to Jefferson Elementary School and then South Orange Middle School. I also went to Marshall School. So it went Marshall, Jefferson Elementary, and then South Orange. In terms of my background, as I mentioned earlier, it’s basketball. My dad played ball. My sister was the first one of the siblings to play ball and then I came along to play basketball. So that’s basically my background of how I grew up and started to play basketball.

PI: Anybody in your family play basketball collegiately?

MA: I want to say my second cousin played collegiately, I don’t know for sure, but I want to say he played at North Carolina A&T, but I’m not sure on that. My dad played at a D3 college called Rhode Island College. My sister played up until her senior year of high school, but didn’t play in college.

PI: Do you play any other sports?

MA: I was always a kid where I just wanted to have fun. So anything I could compete in — soccer, I feel like I was the best at soccer. I always wanted to play football. Ping pong, I always thought I was the best at ping pong. Like different sports, like anything I do, I just wanted to have fun. So when I was younger I [mainly] did baseball, soccer, and basketball. But I felt better with basketball than soccer and baseball. Baseball was a little too slow for me [laughs]. Basketball started taking over more in the third grade and that’s when I just stuck to that sport.

PI: What made you fall in love with basketball?

MA: It was more like since my sister played basketball I was always around basketball. My town is more of a baseball and soccer town. But more of the people my sister hung around and I hung around, all we would talk about was basketball so I was engrossed in the culture of basketball and all I knew was basketball. So that’s why I took more of a step towards basketball than any other sport.

PI: Who were some players you loved to watch on TV growing up?

MA: I never really had an NBA favorite, but I would just watch. Actually I did have a favorite player, but he got injured, and that was Derrick Rose. I had his jersey and I always wore his sneakers. I would say him and Russell Westbrook. But I started rolling with other players like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Stephen Curry, guys like that. Just how versatile they are, especially Derrick Rose was one of the main guys I first started watching.

PI: For those that aren’t familiar with your game — what are your greatest strengths?

MA: I’d say one of my greatest strengths is scoring the ball. I wasn’t ever really a scorer, so I worked and worked on becoming a scorer. So now I feel like that’s the strength of my game, but in particular shooting. Shooting with the ball in my hand, attacking the basket, finishing through contact I’d say is the strength of my game. I do a lot of different things, but I feel like my main strength is scoring the basketball.

PI: What are your current measurements?

MA: I’d say right now without shoes I’m 6’2” and with shoes I’m 6’3”. I weigh 170 pounds and I’m trying to get my weight up and get stronger.

PI: What do you feel you still need to improve on the most? What have you been working on?

MA: I’d say coming in with more energy to the floor. Sometimes I come in trying to assess the situation instead of just coming in with full energy and playing hard. Not putting as much pressure on myself, just enjoying the game. Also playing harder defense and setting the tone. I’m going to be a point guard so that’s what I want to do, set the tone defensively as a leader. On the offensive end I want to keep everything simple, simplify my game. At the next level you’re not going to get certain things off that you can in high school. So I want to simplify my game, make it easier for me and more efficient. So those are the things I’m really working on, and of course my body and getting stronger.

PI: What are some underrated parts of your game you feel you don’t get enough credit for?

MA: One thing I feel like doesn’t get talked about is my versatility on the court. I can play both sides, I can fill the stat sheet and be a better passer, rebounding, everything that matters in those categories. So I feel like [my versatility] isn’t talked about enough and I will be able to do it at the next level.

PI: How would you describe yourself as a defender?

MA: I’ll start with my weaknesses on defense: I need to stop gambling more because I feel like I use my athleticism too much, like, “oh I’m gonna get this steal.” I’m trying to get the steal and I’m trying to jump and block everything instead of being smarter on defense and getting lower on defense. Guarding the ball harder, talking, etc. Weak side defense has gotten better over the years so that’s what I’m really working on with defense. Especially with my high school, St. Peter’s Prep and my AAU team, Lightning.

PI: Who has been the toughest individual matchup you’ve ever faced?

MA: Man I’ve got to think about that one because I’ve played so many guys. Guys in Jersey and guys outside of Jersey, there’s a whole bunch of talented guys in the class of 2022 I’ve played against. Everybody is different and good on their own level, like one guy might be fast and quick, I’ve got to guard him differently. And another guy might be stronger than me so I’ve got to back up and play him smarter. I can’t really say any names, but there have been some tough matchups that I’ve had where I’m like, “whew that guy is good.” There’s not any one particular guy, but there are guys that I’ve played against who are very competitive and know how to play the game.

PI: Who were some of the guys who made an impression on you?

MA: There are a lot of good guys within the state. Guys like Will Richardson, Ben Roy, Jayden Pierre, Elijah Perkins, Jaquan Harris who committed to Seton Hall. A whole bunch of guys. Zion Cruz, I played against him. All of those guys are different in their own ways and I played against them. We all went at it and it’s crazy how we’re all growing up. We all played against each other when we were younger and now we’re all grown up in high school and are all the top kids in the state. So those are some of the names of guys I’ve played against where it was like, “yo, these guys are good.”

PI: Do you model your game after anyone in particular?

MA: I wouldn’t say I model my game [after anybody], but I’ll take bits and pieces of guys I see in the league. I might even see somebody who would not be labeled as “not top level,” but if I like the move I’m going to take the move. My teachers who have helped me get to the point I’m at say, “you’ll always be a student of the game.” Even if it’s from a person where he’s not like, “this guy” but the move is tough, you can use that move. I’m going to steal that move. You can always be a sponge and learn from different people. It doesn’t matter who they are. So I’ll say CJ McCollum for example — his footwork is crazy, his footwork is serious. The moves he makes to change direction, his floater. I’d say I take a little bit of that. Dame [Lillard], his quick release, how he gets separation off the defender, a whole bunch of stuff. Guys like Stephen Curry, how he runs off screens and moves without the ball. Even guys I played against, I took some moves from guys I’ve played against. I forgot this player's name, but he made a move I saw on video against our team. And he did it and I was like, “that’s a nice move” and I took it because I felt like I could put that in my bag. I feel like that’s my strength also, being a student of the game. Putting my ego aside and just learning and taking in information.

PI: How would you describe the basketball culture in your hometown?

MA: I feel like basketball is basketball so wherever you go you’ve still got to perform. You’ve still got to play and get along with the guys on your team. It’s different cultures from everywhere, everyone comes from different places, but we all put that aside and focus on one main goal. The culture is totally different, it’s funny, New York and Jersey are right there, but you’re in a totally different world when you hang around these guys in New York and you come back to where you live and it’s a totally different culture. Especially in a city life and going back to a more suburban life, it’s very different. But I don’t really see it that much because we’re all so focused and engrossed in basketball. It’s good to see different cultures, you learn different things. You start appreciating things that come to you. You start building connections. It’s good.

PI: What are your short term goals you have for yourself as a player and as a person?

MA: I feel like I fulfilled my short term goal…well my long term goal coming into high school was I wanted to get a D1 look. Once I got a D1 look I felt like I was good and offers started coming in so my goal changed. My short term goal now is to make an impact when I come in as a freshman. I know I have to work for it, but I feel like that’s one of my goals coming in. Another short term goal off the court is, even though I’m doing well in school, but being an even better student. Trying to graduate at the top of my class, I feel like those are my two short term goals.

PI: Are you close to being in the top of your class academically?

MA: Yeah a little bit, I want to say I got first honors during the first marking period. The second marking period I got my second honors I want to say. Then in this third marking period I got first honors [again]. So I’m going to try and keep my first honors this fourth quarter, but it’s going to be tough. But I’m up for the challenge.

PI: How about some long term goals?

MA: Long term goals, I’d really have to sit down and talk to my parents and coaches about some long term goals. I don’t really have long term goals now, I haven’t really sat down and thought about it because I was so focused on my short term goals. So I haven’t really thought about my long term goals yet, but I’ll have to get back to that.

PI: What are some things you bring to a team off the court?

MA: Just relaxed, have a good time, enjoy the moment. We’re blessed to be in this situation and not everyone gets this opportunity. Just collaborating with the guys and the team, having a great time with each other because we only get this chance one time so let’s make the best out of it. And just having fun, like if I’m going to be with you guys every day and practice with you guys, play ball with you guys then might as well have the best relationship off the court.

PI: You recently committed to Villanova — what were the most important factors in that decision?

MA: I’ll say just the connection I have with Coach Wright and Coach Nardi. That was probably the most important thing, was the relationship with the coaches. I feel like it was different conversations, it was something different than like “I’m just trying to get you to come to my school.” It was on a whole different level than basketball, just trying to be a better man. So it was a bunch of conversations like that. I was like, “ok this is a different type of situation” and it showed the culture of the school, of the team, and community around Villanova. Those are probably the main factors.

PI: How much of a challenge did the pandemic present while you were going through your recruiting process?

MA: I wouldn’t say it was challenging, I was always taught that when the situation comes just use it to your favor. When the quarantine hit I had offers on the table before the quarantine hit and I just hit the gym and tried to get better and better. Just working, just working, get in the gym. Working in my household, just working. And coaches started calling and I was like, “where did these coaches come from?” and I didn’t even expect it to happen. Coaches started calling and getting more interested and we started building more relationships. So I feel like it wasn’t challenging, but we were making the best of the situation.

PI: How surreal has it been to be getting all of this attention from college programs?

MA: It’s crazy like all the hard work I’ve put in is coming to fruition. I feel like just the other day I was watching Villanova play North Carolina in the championship game and Kris Jenkins hits that shot. I was just right there on my couch watching the game and it was crazy talking to Coach Wright and going from talking to Coach to now I’m going to Villanova. I feel like the attention doesn’t get to me. It’s going to happen because you’re going to a nationally-ranked school. I feel like my role now is to take the attention, but also zone it out, use it and block it out to be humble. So like, seeing what got me here now and let’s go to the next step. Processing that, we made a big step in my life.

PI: Who did you turn to for guidance during the process?

MA: I would say my parents and my two head coaches, for AAU and high school. Those are the four people that are really helping me through the process. Of course I have my trainers, Coach Pete, Coach Phil, Coach Brandon, Coach Al, and all my other coaches. I have so many coaches that have helped me get to this point. But those are the main four people that have helped me through this process. I feel like I didn’t let it overwhelm me, so if I felt like I had a problem I would ask questions. So I feel like that was good about the process. Those were the four main people that were helping me in this situation.

PI: What sort of advice did they give you?

MA: My parents told me to, “be patient and what’s important will reveal itself at the right time.” So when I committed to Villanova I feel like it revealed itself at the right time. So that’s what was good about the situation. PI: What set Villanova apart? What separated them from the rest of your options?

MA: I definitely had more of a connection to the program than any other program. I’ve been to plenty of games, I’ve been to their locker room twice. I got to meet the whole coaching staff and it’s just an amazing culture. Their biggest thing is attitude and that stuck out, it’s not even just about basketball it’s about being a better man and that will help you be better on the court and which is just added to playing for/with others. It’s those key terms that will help you in life. That’s what my dad always taught me was, “be a better man. Have a better attitude. Have your goals and expectations, but just stay focused and everything will figure itself out and the game will come easier once you have those goals down.”

PI: What was their most consistent message to you throughout the recruiting process? What did they try to convey?

MA: Their message was to come in and be a point guard, be a great Villanova point guard that they’ve had in the past. Be a great leader and following other great point guards like Collin Gillespie, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Corey Fisher, all those guards that came through. Just being part of the great legacy of guards.

PI: Was their track record of developing pros one of the major factors in why you chose them?

MA: Of course. Coach Wright and the coaching staff, they are amazing at development. Like what they turn someone like Collin Gillespie into — a kid who was a three-star, that no one really knew about. He comes in and works his butt off and now he’s Co-Big East Player of the Year just from him believing in the system, listening to Coach Wright, working hard, and buying into the process.

PI: What was Coach Wright’s reaction when you told him?

MA: He was excited and I was excited that he was excited [laughs]. He was excited that I am going to be the next good Villanova guard. One thing I felt was great about it was we all know it’s going to be a long journey, but a good one. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but I’m going to have fun and we’re both excited. So I’m thankful to be in this position.

PI: Did you get to know any of the current Villanova players during the recruiting process?

MA: I knew Trey Patterson. I always talked to Trey and have known him since I was younger. Now since I committed I’ve gotten a bunch of texts from players and it just goes to show the legacy and bond these guys have. I felt like I was part of the team and it’s great. I feel the support there.

PI: What will be your focus between now and when you get to campus in 2022?

MA: I’d say my focus is getting my body stronger, that’s the main thing. Second is to keep simplifying my game, getting two to three moves, being more efficient. Third, playing hard and coming with energy and playing defense. Those are the main three things I’m working on in getting ready for college.

PI: What kind of system best fits your strengths as a player?

MA: The way they play together, I like playing with my teammates and unselfishness is a big thing. Villanova’s offense, the way they play together, talk on defense. I feel like anyone could flourish in this system because of them coming together and playing for each other.

PI: How would you define the word ‘success?’

MA: Success can be put in different ways…you can say success would be making the NBA, having a great college career, being the best business partner, that could be your success. Success could be people making a lot of money. How I portray it is if I fulfill my expectations and get better every day, that’s success. You’re not going to have success if you don’t do the little things daily and I feel like that’s success to me.

PI: What do you personally feel you’ll need to accomplish in your career in order for you to become satisfied?

MA: Just winning. Winning is a big thing. That’s what we come together as a team for, it’s what it’s all about. Recruiting and bringing the right players in, coaches. Villanova itself is all about winning, that’s why we make these teams, we come together to bond as a team. So that’s what makes me feel satisfied. Also just playing and leaving everything on the court. If I felt like I did everything I could to win the game and we lost then I’m good and I’m satisfied. It means we’ve still got to work hard to get to the places we want to go. That’s part of getting better every day.

PI: How competitive do you think your generation is?

MA: I feel like my generation, it’s not like we don’t want to win, we do want to win. But so many things are going on at one time. If you lose and score 30 points it’s going to be blasted up on social media, but if you win and you have like 10 points then they don’t really hype it up. I feel like it’s the strength of social media portraying a certain image, but maybe the kid is sad that he lost, but on social media it looks like he’s up because he just had 30 points, but they lost. I know a bunch of guys that had 30 points in a game that were mad that they lost. We lost to Bergen Catholic in the state finals, I had a great game, but we lost. I wanted to win a state championship and I felt bad for the seniors. So those things come into consideration and I feel like we still have that competitive edge in our generation. It’s your version of success and what you’re satisfied about. It’s also about what you’re going for and what’s your why? If I’m playing basketball, what’s your why or what’s your reason for playing basketball? I always keep that question in mind because there’s no point of doing something if you don’t know you’re why. Because I could be playing basketball and like my dad always said, “if you’re playing basketball and you’re not having fun and you don’t have a why then what’s the point of you playing anymore?” That’s why you always keep those questions in your mind — those goals, your success, what you’re striving for, and your expectations.

PI: What would you say is the smartest purchase you’ve ever made?

MA: I would say…well my dad bought it, but we both read it and I think it was a smart purchase. He bought Coach Jay Wright’s book called Attitude. My dad always talks about having an “entrepreneur’s mentality,” not a “consumer's mentality.” So I might be hesitant to buy some sneakers because you can do something else with that money, having that different type of mentality. You’re doing something and paying for something that could benefit from it in the long run, have that equity in it. That’s what my dad always used to tell me. It’s not me buying it, my dad bought it, but I feel like that’s the smartest purchase we made. He always talks about real estate. Things like that, just buying things that have equity in it.

PI: Do you have a favorite book?

MA: I’d say my favorite book is Lord of the Flies, which I read in school, and Malcolm X. Those are my two favorite books I would say. The reason why I say Lord of the Flies is because it’s very action-packed. I feel like as young kids we all can connect, that would be a reasonable situation if we were in that situation. Probably not how it went down, but I feel like you can connect to it and it shows different attributes. Even in basketball, ball is life, you can apply that to any situation, but especially that in the group you have a leader. Chaos going on in the group, being too young like we want to grow up so fast, but you can tell kids are very young at a young age and we need to learn a lot more to be in that type of situation. Survival. So it teaches you different things, like we’re not in that situation, but we can learn from those types of situations from reading the book. I’d say Malcolm X because it’s a non-fiction book and you can connect to it. He grew up in that type of era and we know that time period was crazy and how what he saw and went through you can depict different things and put them in different situations and it will help you with your mind/spirit and bring you together.

PI: Talk about your most embarrassing moment.

MA: I don’t really have any embarrassing moments, just moments that I can learn from. LIke I had a game-winner hit on me and it was posted on Instagram, but I feel like that wasn’t an embarrassment. It was like, “hey you scored on me and I should have played better defense,” that’s how I took it. I didn’t care if it was all over here or there. I had people calling and texting me, sending me the video. I’m like, “hey it was a good bucket. It was a good score.” So that was embarrassing, but I learned a lot from that situation of the power of social media. I learned things about myself, my confidence in myself being in that situation regarding a last-second shot and of what to do next. I learned so many things, but I don’t think that was an embarrassing moment.

PI: Talk about your favorite all-time memory on the basketball court.

MA: I want to say my biggest moment is I had a game-winner against Hudson Catholic. I feel like that really changed my life. With St. Peter’s Prep, that was our first win in like six years [against Hudson Catholic]. I was a freshman, it was a crazy shot, the gym went crazy. I feel like that was my greatest moment. The second-greatest moment of my career is when we played St. Joe’s Montvale. I had like 14 points in a row in the fourth quarter and we won to get to the state championship. I put everything into that game and I feel like those were my two greatest moments in high school.

PI: What’s your biggest pet peeve?