St. Peter’s Prep won the boys’ basketball Hudson County Tournament last year for the first time in nine years, and although this year’s tournament will be more of a HCIAL get-together than the full county because of the pandemic shortened season, the Marauders have to be considered the front runners to win the tourney once again in 2021.
The reason for the Marauders being considered the preseason favorite has to be the Marauders’ brilliant backcourt of senior Ray Ford and junior Mark Armstrong.
Simply put, Ford and Armstrong together form the best backcourt in all of New Jersey. They are both NCAA Division I products. Ford has already signed his letter of intent to play for Prep grad and North Bergen native Greg Herenda at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Armstrong, a junior, has more scholarship offers than Kim Kardashian has wedding proposals. Armstrong can write his ticket to practically any college basketball program he wants. He has yet to make his decision official, but you can be rest assured that the college recruiters are all lined up with letters in hand, hoping and praying that the talented guard signs with his school.
“The great thing is that they like to play with each other,” said Prep head coach Alex Mirabel, who is entering his fifth season as the Marauders’ head coach. “They challenge each other on and off the court. They both rise to the occasion. They are two mentally tough kids. They finished off last season strong. When you have two leaders like that, it’s good for the team.”
Let’s start with Armstrong. The 6-foot-3 junior averaged a tick under 20 points per game last season as a sophomore, earning the Hudson County Player of the Year honors, leading the Marauders to a 25-4 record. A First Team All-Hudson County selection two straight years, Armstrong is also a 1,000-point scorer already in just two years of high school and he’s on track to become the school’s all-time leading scorer – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Armstrong is also on pace to become a 2,000-point scorer, which is something that was once totally unthinkable at Grand and Warren, even going back to the days when Mark’s father, Mark, Sr., was a standout player for the Marauders in the 1980s.
“He’s a great scorer and a great shooter,” Mirabel said. “The biggest thing with Mark is his leadership. We’re working on the mental aspect of the game and make sure he gets everyone to play at a high level. We also want Mark to be more vocal. We want Mark to understand what it takes to play at that high level. He’s pretty good with that concept. He’s focused and locked in, but obviously, the expectations for him are higher.”
Ford is also a 6-foot-3 guard who signed early with FDU, a total get for Herenda and the Knights.
“He’s happy with his selection,” Mirabel said of Ford’s choice of FDU. “I think he also has a bit of a chip on his shoulder because of it. He wants to keep things rolling. He has the same mindset as last year. He’s a catalyst on this team. He wants to make sure that he finishes strong. He’s pretty level-headed and wants to end on a good note.”
Ford averaged close to 14 points per game last season, earning Second Team All-County honors.
Senior Gavin O’Farrell is another key returnee. The 6-foot-6 forward is headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of the top scholastic institutions in the nation.
“Whatever you need him to do, he’ll do it,” Mirabel said. “He’s strong close to the basket, but has a nice little jump shot. He does all the little things you need.”
Junior Alif Bass is a 5-foot-10 point guard.
“He’s a scoring point guard,” Mirabel says of Bass. “He’s aggressive off the dribble. He’s a good pass-and-catch shooter. He’s a glue guy to Mark and Ray. He’s becoming like Will White.”
Mirabel is referring to White, last year’s third guard, who made a lot of key shots down the stretch last season. Mirabel is hopeful that Bass can fill White’s shoes.
Hassan Jackson is a 6-foot-4 forward who transferred to St. Peter’s from the now-closed Marist.
“He’s athletic,” Mirabel said of Jackson. “He has a big body. He finishes around the basket. He hustles a lot and brings a lot of leadership.”
Matt Kinzler is a 6-foot-6 sophomore with a ton of promise.
“He’s a good shooter with a nice touch,” Mirabel said. “He knows all the fundamentals and knows how to play the game.”
Football star Kenny Soares is a 6-foot-2 junior who will see a ton of action on the hardwood.
“He’s an athletic kid who is tough,” Mirabel said. “He’s similar to [2019 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year] Shayne Simon. He’s a good shooter who brings that football mentality.”
Soares earned All-Hudson Reporter honors as a tight end for the football team.
Jackson Tindall is a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward.
“He can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket,” Mirabel said. “He’s a good physical player.”
Zion Fowler is a 6-foot sophomore guard who is another football player.
“He might be the most athletic kid we have,” Mirabel said. “He jumps out of the gym and plays hard. He’s a Jersey City kid, so it means he’s tough.”
Tyler Lingham is a 6-foot-3 junior off-guard/small forward.
“He reminds me of Ray [Ford], just not as aggressive,” Mirabel said. “He’s a good driver who goes to the basket well. He’s always around the ball. He can shoot.”
Sophomore DeAndre Singson is a 5-foot-8 guard that Mirabel found while eating at a downtown Jersey City restaurant.
“He said he went to Prep, so we brought him on,” Mirabel said. “He’s quick. He’s a typical Jersey City guard. He knows how to play. He fits in with whatever we have going on. He’s going to be pretty good.”
The pandemic proved to be a major hurdle for the Marauders.
“We did all the Zoom calls and workouts,” Mirabel said. “We basically told them that it’s a challenge that should make you tougher. It’s a mental challenge for them. They can’t take anything for granted. It’s a quick turnaround. We only have a month and a half to play this season. We don’t have a lot of time to expand what we do. We have to be precise with everything. The good thing is that we’ll be playing all our games in the county. We all know what we can do and the tendencies we have.”
And Mirabel was asked if the Marauders are wearing the bulls’ eye, being the defending county champ.
“As far as the bulls’ eye goes, we always have that,” Mirabel said. “Everyone wants to beat St. Peter’s. I’ve noticed that. People are always coming after us, so we can never let down. We just have to continue to get better and rise to the challenge. We just have to be ready.”
The Marauders begin play Jan. 28 against Lincoln.
“We have a good back court and we have to hope that everything is going well with them,” Mirabel said of Armstrong and Ford. “But we’re excited to be playing. We hope to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year.”
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely former Snyder High School and Purdue University basketball standout Roy “Pooh” Hairston.