LOS ANGELES — The last time Christine Kepenekian was at the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter facilities, she was being honored for her performance in the European Championship Women Division C Tournament in Yerevan, the Armenian capitol.
The Burbank High graduate and former member of the Ararat Women's Basketball team was showered with praise and later spoke about her dream of signing with a professional basketball team.
Her dream became a reality last week.
Kepenekian signed a contract to play with Hatis Yerevan, the top women's professional basketball team in Armenia. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"I'm doing what I love to do," she said. "I'm getting paid to play basketball. There's nothing better than that."
Her accomplishments were celebrated Wednesday at Ararat, where supporters and admirers congratulated a timid standout who has shied away from the spotlight that has been placed on her throughout her playing career.
"She's been well known in the Armenian community," said Carl Bardakian, the director of international scouting for Hatis Yerevan. "Her play for Ararat and her play at the European Championships brought the attention of Hatis Yerevan and its coaches."
Kepenekian, who was also a standout at Cal State Bakersfield, will play for Gia Kazanjian, who was her head coach for Armenia's national team. Armenia's national team took second in the European Championship Women Division C Tournament, as Kepenekian was awarded MVP honors after averaging 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals per game.
Kepenekian said the transition to playing at the professional level should be made easier because of her comfort of playing for Kazanjian.
"I'm used to his coaching style and what he wants," she said.
There are still nerves, though.
"I haven't experienced [professional basketball], so I'm nervous," she said. "I'm anxious and nervous to see what the other teams have."
She also said she can't wait to report to Hatis. She'll leave for Armenia on Tuesday and training camp will begin Sept. 10, which is also when she'll celebrate her 25th birthday. Hatis Yerevan will play in the 38-team EuroCup, which starts Oct. 28.
"I look forward to going out there and playing for my home country," she said. "I feel like all the practices, all the sweat, all the injuries have made it worth while."
Her mom, Haikui, remembered taking her daughter to her first practice, and watching her compete against boys and girls more than a dozen years ago.
"I used to take her to four different places a day for practice," Haikui Kepenekian said.
Added her dad, Sam: "This is where she began. In fact, she began [playing] in my backyard."
Azad Galustian, the chairman of the basketball committee of the Ararat chapter, has watched Christine Kepenekian's exploits for years, starting at Burbank High then to Bakersfield and beyond. While she was at Bakersfield, Kepenekian set numerous school records. She has 16 top-10 career program marks and nine top-10 individual season marks. She is also second in program history for rebounds with 569 and is one of six players to total more than 1,000 career points with 1,035.
"Through hard work and dedication, Christine has been able to achieve her dream of becoming a professional basketball player," Galustian said. "Her hard work and dedication is an inspiration to us all and all of the Homenetmen Ararat Chapter. We will be following her, her team and we will be rooting for her."
An All-Area Player of the Year with the Bulldogs, Kepenekian was among the top players in the state in scoring during her senior season in 2003, averaging 24.1 points a game. She also averaged 13.5 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Proving she was a potent scorer from the outside, Kepenekian made 64 of 157 three-point attempts.