Coach Learns Lesson of Winning Humbly

A high school basketball player scored 100 points Tuesday night, in a game in which the final score was 114-47.

The player was Tigran Grigorian of Pico Rivera Mesrobian but, as is often the case in situations like this, there was less attention focused on him the day after than there was on his rookie coach, Vic Karapetian.

Karapetian knew he was in hot water only moments after the game, when opposing Coach K.C. Curry of Los Angeles Pacific Christian High refused to shake hands with him.

In Curry's view, Karapetian exhibited a lack of sportsmanship by letting his players give up easy baskets -- and pass on layups of their own -- so Grigorian had more chances to score.

What's surprising is, Karapetian's bosses at Mesrobian agreed.

On Wednesday, Athletic Director Johnny Nashunian called the rare 100-point achievement "blemished," adding, "I'd rather win a sportsmanship plaque than a league title. Giving up a layup to get another basket doesn't sit well with me. It bugs me more than I can express."

Even more surprising: Karapetian was bugged, too. Instead of gloating, he was apologetic and filled with remorse. "I absolutely learned a lesson," he said.

Karapetian, 20, is thought to be the youngest high school varsity basketball coach in Southern California. Before this season, he'd never guided a team in which the players were older than 12. He also never played high school basketball. He says he learned the game from watching Laker broadcasts.

"My love for basketball started from watching the Lakers, specifically Chick Hearn in the '80s," Karapetian said. "Listening to Chick made me realize I wanted to be a coach."

So what might Hearn, his idol, have said about Mesrobian's performance?

Said Karapetian: "He'd take me aside, 'Son, you have to understand, it's not right. You have to understand people's feelings.' "

Karapetian is taking full responsibility for the actions of his team, but he wants people to know that Grigorian's accomplishment wasn't planned.

The senior had a hot hand early on and in the second quarter his teammates hatched the idea of trying to help him to triple digits.

"We didn't mean to disrespect anybody," Grigorian said. "We just said, 'Lets go for it.' "

Said Karapetian: "We weren't pressing, we let them score, my guys were unselfish. I really didn't feel we disrespected the game. But because of the pain we've caused, we'll handle it differently [next time]."

The ironic thing is, Karapetian knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed on a basketball court.

"I was the bookworm, the nerd ... the statistician," he said. "I was the person in high school with glasses sitting in the corner. Almost every player can beat me one-on-one. That's pathetic. But they still trust me because I know the game."

He must, because Mesrobian is 15-3, champion of the International League, and is ranked No. 4 in the Southern Section Division V-A.

Karapetian uses plays, drills and strategies gleaned from coaching videos of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Memphis' John Calipari and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. His half-court offense includes plays from the Lakers and Clippers. And then there's Hearn's influence -- "how to play the game the right way, to be respectful, to be a good person and to just have fun," he said.

Referees might think Karapetian is an impostor when he introduces himself because he looks even younger than he is. He's a full-time student at Cal State Northridge, majoring in political science. He lives in Sherman Oaks and drives an hour to Mesrobian, a K-through-12 private school of 300 students, mostly of Armenian descent.

He was Mesrobian's student body president in 2000. The athletic director, Karapetian's coach in third grade, offered him the head coaching position last June with no trepidation.

"He knows insights about things much more than kids his age," Nashunian said. "Maturity wise, he's well ahead of his age."

It has helped that Karapetian inherited a team with one of the best players in the division. The 6-foot Grigorian was averaging 30.9 points before Tuesday's game, including a 45-point effort against highly regarded Tarzana Stoneridge Prep.

Grigorian came to the United States from Armenia 10 years ago. He learned to shoot and dribble on the playground. He and senior co-captain Baret Chakarian function almost as coaches on the court.

"I treat them like adults," Karapetian said. "They have all the responsibilities."

Mesrobian has no home games because there is no gym. The team practices on outside courts. There are eight varsity players -- though only six suited up for the Pacific Christian game -- none taller than 6 feet 2. If the team needs to scrimmage, Karapetian suits up and recruits an eighth-grader to make it five against five.

There are plays named after the Lakers, North Carolina, even the athletic director. The team has discipline and executes out of bounds plays better than some Division I schools.

"He's a real basketball fanatic," Grigorian said of his coach.

Karapetian used to do play by play of Laker games in the shower. As a 10-year-old, he kept statistics of Laker games -- but not for the reasons most kids do.

"I was trying to find patterns, what coaches do, what players do, what players played well in which quarter, what strategies worked and didn't work," he said.

Hearn's distinctive voice and enthusiasm influenced Karapetian like no other.

"Chick was the one who taught me the rules," he said. "The more he explained, the more I understood. Chick was my philosopher, my Henry David Thoreau."

In the 2000 Mesrobian yearbook, Karapetian's senior quote comes from Hearn: "This game is in the refrigerator, the door is shut, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter is getting hard and the Jell-O's jigglin'."

He knows he would have been well served to think of those words as the score was getting out of hand on Tuesday.

Karapetian remembers Hearn criticizing Laker guard Nick Van Exel in 1996 for shoving a referee into the scorer's table. "Chick was furious," he recalled. He said, " 'That's not part of the game.' "

But the young coach also believes Hearn, who died in August, would have forgiven him this one transgression. "Chick would be the first to say people make mistakes," Karapetian said. "I'm not perfect."

Karapetian envisions himself one day working as a teacher, principal, then a Congressman. As for coaching, he considers himself lucky to be living out his basketball dream.

"Other than Mesrobian, no school in their right mind would hire someone with no coaching experience who's never played in high school," he said.

Mesrobian made a good choice. Karapetian will learn from his latest experience and be better for it.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at



Century City

*--* Tigran Grigorian of Pico Rivera Mesrobian became the 16th high school boy to score at least 100 points in a game and the first in California, according to national and state record books Pts Player, School Year 135 Danny Heater, Burnsville, W.Va 1960 127 Johnny Morris, Portsmouth (Va.) Norcom 1961 120 Dick Bogenrife, Sedalia (Ohio) Midway 1953 114 Pete Cimino, Bristol (Penn.) 1960 114 Wayne Oakley, Hanson (Ky.) 1954 108 Ken Robinson, Cassatt (S.C.) Midway 1961 108 Morris Dale Mathis, St. Joe (Ark.) 1955 105 Kenneth Johnson, Grandfield (Okla.) 1979 104 Danny Boyd, Camden (Tenn.) 1961 103 Dickie Pitts, Wimauma (Fla.) East Bay 1956 102 Bennie Fuller, Little Rock (Ark.) School for Deaf 1971 102 Ed Vondra, Brainard (Neb.) 1922 101 Cedric Hensley, Cleveland (Texas) Heritage 2001 100 Tigran Grigorian, Pico Rivera Mesrobian 2003 100 Dajuan Wagner, Camden (N.J.) 2001 100 Greg Procell, Noble Ebarb (La.) 1970 Sources: National Federation of High Schools, Student Sports


*--* State Your Case A look at the highest single-game scoring performances in California boys' basketball: Pts Player, School Year 100 Tigran Grigorian, Pico Rivera Mesrobian 2003 89 Chad Bickley, Santa Maria Valley Chr 1992 82 Winters Patterson, S.F. Balboa 1995 79 Chad Bickley, Santa Maria Valley Chr 1994 78 Walter Jackson, S.F. Balboa 1992 74 Nick Tenneriello, L.A. Colbert 1968 Source: Cal-Hi Sports


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