Recovered, set and ready

It's likely that Eric Strangis' toughness and competitive spirit won't be questioned.

He's proven that during the past eight months, playing with a shoulder that's less than 100%.

Some players would choose to skip an entire season to rehabilitate and recover from an injury. The senior Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball player chose not to travel that path, instead opting to put the team ahead of himself.

Strangis, a senior guard/forward, suffered a torn right labrum during one of Crescenta Valley's summer league games. Unbeknownst to his teammates and third-year Coach Shawn Zargarian, Strangis continued to play through pain in nearly 30 summer league contests.

“I didn't know he was hurt,” said Zargarian, who piloted the Falcons (17-9, 9-5 in the Pacific League) to a three-way tie for second place with Burroughs and Hoover in league this season behind powerful Pasadena. “He just kept attacking the rim, and he even hit the floor hard a couple of times.

“He played through the whole summer. Then he got the shoulder checked out, and his mom called and said that he had a torn labrum.”

The news caught the Falcons off guard.

Strangis underwent surgery and rehabilitation during a four-month stretch, forcing him to miss the first nine games of the regular season. He returned during Crescenta Valley's 80-54 Pacific League home win against rival Glendale on Dec. 18, exactly four months after the surgery had been performed.

“Going through a day without basketball is tough, and it's frustrating,” Strangis said. “I thought something was wrong and that it would go away, but it didn't.”

While Strangis worked on getting a clean bill of health, the Falcons worked on regrouping with the possibility they would be without Strangis for a significant portion of the season.

“We had to work on offense and defense with him not being there,” Zargarian said. “We figured coming in with Eric being healthy that we would have a strong 1-2 punch with him and [senior forward] Clay Sierra.

“Then we had to focus around Clay with Eric being out. We had a time frame that he would be out about five to six months, but we would ask him how he was doing. The closer we got to the date, the more excited and anxious we were to getting him back.”

While watching contests from the bench in street clothes, Strangis saw the Falcons start strong. Crescenta Valley went 6-3 without Strangis and reached the championship game of its own Falcon Classic.

The Falcons are 11-6 since Strangis returned to the lineup. They will next compete in the CIF Southern Section Division II-AA playoffs, which will begin next week after the playoff pairings are revealed Sunday.

Though he's still regaining full mobility, Strangis has shown off his stellar all-around game, whether it's bringing the ball up the court, playing inside or shooting outside.

For example, Strangis posted 21 points and eight rebounds Jan. 22 to spark visiting Crescenta Valley to a 56-53 league win against Glendale.

“In that game, he demanded the ball and attacked the basket and made his free throws,” Zargarian said. “He opens the court for the other guys on the team, and he gives us a lot of other options.”

Since that second Glendale meeting, Strangis has worked hard at developing a flow to his game that can help the Falcons win their share of contests.

It hasn't been easy all of the time, but things appear to be getting back to normal for Strangis.

“The first few weeks into the season, I was cleared for only minor contact,” Strangis said. “It was tough at the beginning to find my role because I didn't want to mess up.

“I saw my teammates grow by stepping up. That made it easier for me when I came back.”

Crescenta Valley senior guard Alan Bagatourian said Strangis improved immediately upon his return.

“His energy level was great when he came back,” Bagatourian said. “He came back and knew his role, and he never complained about not getting a lot of playing time.

“The pieces are starting to fall back into place for the team. With him out there, we can be more balanced.”

With Strangis' high school career winding down, he wants to play a significant role during the postseason for Crescenta Valley.

Being close to healthy won't hurt, either.

“I've been playing with these guys for most of my life, and we are trying to do something special,” Strangis said. “It's our last chance to play together, too.

“I want to pick and choose when to be aggressive and attack, but I also want to still be able to find the guys throughout the game. You want to be able to play with your teammates.”

That's where Strangis' toughness and competitive spirit come into play.

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