Playing hoops against a sibling often breeds a level of competitiveness you won’t see anywhere else.
Take for instance the little brother who nails a corner 3-pointer. It drives the older brother nuts to the point where he might lower the hoop to 8-9 feet and throw down a wicked two-handed flush to embarrass little brother.
It’s a level of competitiveness that just gets stronger as the siblings grow up. Arguably to the point of the parents having to shut it down. Or, even better, the siblings realizing games are getting a little too competitive and they have to shut it down.
For California Baptist guards and brothers, Taran and Tre Armstrong, that is exactly what happened.
“We played one on one once while we were at home together,” Tre said. “With two other dudes and Taz won. But, before that, we hadn’t really played one on one much for years. Our dad said that we had to stop because we just kept fighting each other. Taz remembers it thinking he’s won more times than not. But, I disagree.”
“it’s a long tally over a lot of years,” Taran said. “It’s hard to keep track.”
No matter what the tally is, ultimately the brothers got to the point where they stopped playing one on one because it got too competitive.
But, it’s that competitiveness that has led to Riverside. And it is something that head coach Rick Croy loves about these two brothers.
“His greatest strength, and the reason why I believe he will play in the NBA, is he is an elite competitor,” Croy said of Taran. “What do we need him to do? We need him to lead at a high level and bring his experiences with him. All the lessons he’s learned thus far. He’s a much more experienced collegiate player than he was this time a year ago.”
The WAC Freshman of the Year missed nearly a month of basketball at the beginning of WAC play due to Mono. Taran’s left CBU’s WAC opener at Chicago State at halftime on Jan. 8 and didn’t suit up until Feb. 3 in Las Cruces against New Mexico State.
“You mention the adversity,” Croy said. “I’m very thankful that he was able to go through that year one. And work through that. That was a tough stretch…it came at a time where he was playing great basketball. There was a lot of attention surrounding his game and what he was doing for our program. To go through that, and work through that, and grow and mature, I think he brings that with him.”
But it’s not just the younger Armstrong that is full of elite competitiveness. Older brother Tre is in the same boat according to Croy.
“Tre is all about winning,” Croy said. “He’s been fortunate. He played on a second place team and got minutes as a freshman. And then his sophomore year, we had no depth. We were playing seven guys and at times we couldn’t get those guys a sub. Again, another guy that wants to win. And I think he’s ready to make all the sacrifices required to do that.”
Tre is getting ready to start his fourth year at CBU. And in 2022-23, the Lancers are finally eligible for the NCAA Tournament after going through the four-year transition from the D-II ranks to the D-I level.
“For Tre, now, we blink and here he is in year four as a college basketball player,” Croy said. “He’s got great leadership gifts. He’s a great communicator, he’s got a great toughness about his game.”
And as he enters year four as a Lancer, those leadership gifts will be on full display. This includes the trust he has in his younger brother, who will be the floor general for CBU.
“The year didn’t go how we wanted it to go,” Tre said. “And I think everything that happened in the first year is going to help for this year. Overall, I think both us have gotten better at basketball. Always knew he was gonna be impactful but probably not as quick as he was. But I think he will be two or three times better this year in every aspect of the game.”
For those that may not remember, Taran was getting all kind of hype early on in his freshman season. Media pundits were proclaiming that he was NBA ready with his ability to pass the ball, his high basketball I.Q and more. In a one-point win over San Jose State on Nov. 18, Taran recorded the first triple-double in program history. Armstrong hit two game-winning free throws with 7.8 seconds to play to give him 16 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds on the night and the Lancers the win. So, of course the hype was going to come.
But, big brother says that his brother took it all in stride rather than letting it go to his head. In fact, Tre said he didn’t have to say a word to his younger brother in regard to handling the hype.
“Not at all,” Tre said. “We both have pretty good perspective. And I think he knows and I knew that regardless of the good stuff he was doing, we gotta win more. And he’s gotta get better at certain things so that we’re just a really hard team to beat. So, at the end of the day…I think it was a great stepping stone for him. But regardless of what he did, didn’t think that was his peak, by any means. So, it was pretty easy to keep him humble.”
Perhaps it is that trust. Or perhaps it is the competitiveness in both brothers. Maybe, it is the simple fact that they think they are better together. It could also be that it makes it easier for family to visit.
“It’s very huge for the family,” Tre said. “Having both of us together. Being able to travel over and have both in the same place. Not have to fly around the country to watch to see both your sons playing. That’s an underrated aspect of this situation.”
Underrated is right. The Armstrong brothers are 8,000 miles from home. But, due to the fact that there are multiple players from Australia on the CBU roster, it is almost a home away from home, according to both Tre and Taran.
“Definitely makes it easier being away from home having my brother here,” Taran said. “Just the environment with so many Australians here, it doesn’t really feel like you’re that far away. It feels like a home away from home. It’s definitely a great situation for us.”
Outside of basketball, the competitiveness ends, according to both. Neither brother even listed a video game or perhaps another sport they compete against each other in. Kind of crazy in this day and age.
One thing both players are hoping for is that their families will get to watch the Lancers compete for a WAC championship and in the NCAA Tournament. For both, it is about getting better but also about winning. Again, that competitiveness is on full display.
“it’s unbelievable,” Tre said in regard to being eligible for the NCAA Tournament. “That’s what college basketball is all about. You talk about all the hype. We know we’re good enough to win this thing and play in that. We have an amazing group. Great coaches. And I think our returners are better basketball players in general. Being part of the transition the whole time and it sort of arising in my last year is pretty cool.”
— California Baptist Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) March 9, 2022