Nova Notebook: Armwood Already Focused on the Basics
Oct. 2, 2009
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, this week introduces us to freshman forward Isaiah Armwood.
Listen to Isaiah Armwood for a few minutes and in his deep, rich baritone you hear echoes of Wildcat predecessors who understood from their earliest days on campus the essential tenets of Villanova Basketball.
"I just want to play defense, rebound and run the floor," he says. "Whatever Coach (Jay) Wright, asks me to do, I'm going to do."
Those, of course, are key ingredients for any Wildcat, past or present. Yet there is in Armwood's tone a firmness that conjures up a pair of Villanovans who focused on those basics first and grew into larger roles as their careers progressed. Both joined squads rich in talented guards and perimeter scorers yet each made it on to the court as freshmen because they kept their gaze on the less glamorous parts of the game - setting screens, defending with gusto, and scrapping for every loose carom off the glass.
That sort of selflessness got Will Sheridan into the rotation as a freshman in 2003. It did the same for Dante Cunningham, when he came to the Main Line in 2005 to join a squad that had been a possession or two away from advancing to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight the previous spring.
Armwood will, of course, chart his own path at Villanova independent of those two respected Wildcats. And it could be that his offensive tools help him stand out. But his willingness to embrace an approach that has served others so well here is a promising indicator for a gifted athlete who brings a tool box full of impressive skills with him to the Nova Nation.
Like his fellow new arrivals, Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, Armwood enters Villanova with about as solid a basketball pedigree as a high school player can have. Armwood spent four years honing his hoops and academics at Montrose Christian Academy, a perennial national prep power coached by Stu Vetter. The schedule was packed with national games and the roster overflowed with Division I talent.
"If I didn't go to Montrose," Armwood states, "I wouldn't be the same player I am now. Coach Vetter is just like Coach Wright in a lot of ways. He stayed on us and told us the truth, not just what we wanted to hear. Listening to what Coach Vetter said helped me out a lot."
During his youth in Baltimore, Armwood spent a lot of time playing basketball. He was always among the taller members of his age group and it seemed natural. But the sense that the sport would be more than just an outlet didn't really resonate until he reached the eighth grade. It was at that point that he began to attract the notice of people who saw something in his ability.
"When I turned 14 I started to have people coming up to me, telling me how good I could be if I worked at," he recalls.
Baltimore has a long track record of producing basketball talent and as Armwood began to carve an identity with his AAU team (Baltimore Stars), the question of where he would attend high school became a topic of interest to people beyond his family and circle of friends. As he finished up at Woodlawn Middle School, he looked at a number of attractive options. Through the process, his father made it clear that basketball would only be one part of the equation.
"My father," he says, "doesn't care about basketball. He tells me it's school work first and then basketball will take care of itself."
Armwood's close friend, Terrell Vincent was at Montrose Christian and that may have been the final part in tipping the decision. He enrolled and was off to his new school to begin the ninth grade.
"It was all new," he recalls with a smile.
As a freshman, Armwood joined a club headlined by senior Kevin Durant, already a national figure in recruiting circles. It was a roster deep in talent -including Maryland's Greivis Vasquez, another senior on that team - and Armwood knew that there would be an apprenticeship of sorts before he could make his mark. But he was able to take the long view and focused on taking Vetter's coaching to heart while competing every day against a potent group of upperclassmen.
"Just because Kevin was the best player on the team, Coach Vetter didn't let him get away with anything," noted Armwood. "He made sure we all worked hard."
By the time he was a junior in 2007-08, Armwood was a captain and team leader. That role was a testament to his own skill set and a maturity that drew the respect of his younger teammates. It also caught the attention of college coaches, among them Villanova's Jay Wright and then assistant coach Patrick Chambers.
"Villanova was always number one for me," states Armwood. "They were the there first and were serious about it. Coach Chambers was there from the beginning. My father really liked the academics here and I knew for a while Villanova was at the top of my list."
Armwood's profile as a prospect grew during his junior season to the point where his list of suitors was long. He also looked hard at Syracuse and Texas - where Durant starred before moving on to the NBA - before announcing that he would attend Villanova.
As a senior, Armwood was front and center on one of America's top prep squads. One of his new teammates would also be a future teammate - Mouphtaou Yarou, who transferred to Montrose Christian prior to the 2008-09 season.
"I tired to help him not so much on the court but off it and socially," he says. "We became very close."
Montrose Christian qualified for the first national prep championship tournament last spring but were eliminated in the semifinals. Still, Armwood left Montrose Christian ranked among the nation's top 60 high school players in his class and is part of the reason Villanova's crop of rookies is considered among the nation's best.
Armwood arrived at Villanova in time for the fall semester and it's been a crash course in learning since. In his short time he has developed a reputation for dependability - he arrived 10 minutes early for this interview - and on-court athleticism that has already elicited a wow or two. His leaping ability is exceptional and it allows him to throw down the spectacular slam dunk or swat shots that seem safely out of his reach.
Job one is to add bulk to his lean frame.
"I was always tall and skinny," he says with a smile. He and strength coach Lon Record have already spent hours in the Davis Center weight room with an eye towards altering the latter part of that statement.
In other years or in other locales, Armwood might well be the center of attention as he enters college. But he is unfazed by the relative anonymity that accompanies him to college. Instead, his experience at Montrose gave him a crash course on the deft, understated art of fitting into the fabric of an accomplished unit. Then, he watched and learned from Durant and friends. Now, he is following the lead of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena.
Defend, rebound and run the court. It's been a path to early career minutes at Villanova before and seems like as a good place as any for a young forward to focus his thoughts upon.