HOUSTON — A summer full of basketball isn’t unusual. But this year’s summer ball carries a bit more meaning for Cam Whitmore and Mark Armstrong.
Whitmore and Armstrong, both Villanova signees, participated in training camp with the United States men’s under-18 national team. The team will compete at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Tijuana, Mexico, starting with a game against the Dominican Republic on Monday.
“FIBA ball is a little different; like you have to get used to it,” Armstrong said. “It’s just a good experience, and if we happen to make the team, it will be great to play for [our] country.”
Besides playing alongside other blue-chip recruits from across the country, the experience gave them a taste of what to expect in college with early wake-up calls and long practices. There aren’t any parents to make sure they get up on time at training camp in Houston, and their parents certainly aren’t following them to Villanova.
“You’ve got early-morning practices, long practices,” Whitmore said. “Being on your feet for a long time, it’s a good transition to Villanova because the same thing’s going to happen.”
The FIBA game will be an adjustment, too, with a wider lane, a 24-second shot clock, and differences in officiating. But USA coach Tad Boyle thinks having to make those changes on the fly will help when they’re adjusting to game plans tailored to each opponent on the schedule.
“It’s obvious why Villanova’s had a lot of success in college basketball with two players like [Whitmore and Armstrong] and I’m sure many more like them in their program,” said Boyle, who’s also the head coach at the University of Colorado. “Both terrific young men. Very different players, different personalities, but really talented kids and terrific in terms of the kind of people they are off the court.”
Both players bring something different to Team USA. Whitmore, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward from Archbishop Spalding High in Severn, Md., “is as strong and powerful an athlete as I’ve seen in an 18-year-old,” Boyle said, while Armstrong (6-2, 160) is a guard who brings quickness and athleticism to the perimeter. They knew each other before Team USA, and getting to play alongside each other has helped strengthen their bond.
Armstrong and Whitmore want to do whatever it takes to help Villanova, a commitment that never wavered after Jay Wright suddenly retired from coaching after the end of the season.
“Coach [Kyle] Neptune’s been there for a long time,” Armstrong said. “He saw me play when he was there before, so there was still a connection there. And when Coach Wright stepped down, Coach Neptune called me. He came down to the gym, talked to me, and I was still staying with the program.”
Added Whitmore: “Just the connections. Coach Kyle was there before, so nothing really changed. It was just a different person. The culture’s going to be the same. The same coaches are staying. The players came back.”
Neptune was named the Wildcats’ coach on April 20 and previously was an assistant under Wright from 2013-21 before being the head coach at Fordham for a season.
Whitmore and Armstrong agreed that Neptune brings continuity to the Wildcats and are confident he won’t miss a beat. The pair watched the Wildcats’ Final Four run and were impressed by the program’s culture. Boyle says the two honoring their commitments is a reflection of their character.
“I’ve always been the kind of coach when a kid makes a commitment, it should be as good as their written word,” Boyle said. “I know in today’s world, that’s not always the case, so I think the fact that they both did stick with it shows something about their character and the way they were raised and the kind of young men that they are.
“Villanova’s lucky to have both of them.”
After their stint on Team USA, there won’t be time for much else this summer as Whitmore and Armstrong will head to campus to begin their college careers. But first up is a likely trip south of the border.
“You’ve been born in the country; you’re a citizen here,” said Armstrong, a native of South Orange, N.J. “So it’s great that the committee points you guys out to play for your country. It shows all the grind, the blood, sweat, and tears that you’ve put in is paying off, that they’re seeing that.”