From Tornado to Toro

Zareh Zargaryan has been here before.

He's been asked to score, lead, and create shots for his teammates.

The last time Zargaryan was expected to carry such a load was when he was playing for the Hoover High boys' basketball team.

Now he's being asked to do the same for Cal State Dominguez Hills.

"When he was [at Hoover], we needed him to do a little bit of everything," said former Tornado head coach and current Glendale Community College assistant coach Vigen Jilizian, who mentored the 6-foot-6 forward throughout high school and during Zargaryan's first season with the Vaqueros.

At Dominguez Hills, Zargaryan has needed to be a scorer and a playmaker.

"He's one of our best scorers and best passers," Toros Coach Damaine Powell said. "He's almost like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He has to score, pass and create shots for his teammates. Right now, he's one of the top three players in the conference.

"It's been amazing to watch his growth."

Zargaryan has been growing since he graduated from Hoover in 2007, when he was first noticed by Dominguez Hills.

"He was a very skilled player," said Dominguez Hills assistant coach Max Ward, who recruited Zargaryan as a senior. "He had great ability to put the ball on the floor. He could dribble, pass and shoot very well. Hoover was a dominant team because of him."

At Hoover, he was an All-Area first-team member and an All-Pacific League selection in his senior season. But he also had his weaknesses. He understood the game well, but he weighed just 190 pounds his senior season and was a streaky shooter.

Zargaryan went to Glendale college to play for Coach Brian Beauchemin and Jilizian as a freshman. A year later, he left the confines of Glendale college to play for Citrus College because he wanted to be on a team that could compete for a state championship. During his sophomore season at Citrus, Zargaryan logged 15 minutes per game and averaged 4.4 points per contest for a squad that won the Western State Conference Southern Division title.

Even though he shot just 36.7% from the field, Ward and Powell wanted him at Dominguez Hills, a NCAA Division II program.

"We wanted a winner like Zareh on our team," Ward said. "We wanted unselfish, skilled basketball players. He's very skilled. He has a high basketball IQ. At our level, you want as many of those types of players as possible."

Zargaryan played in 24 of his team's 28 games as a junior, averaging 9.7 minutes per contest and scoring a total of 62 points.

It was one of the few times in his playing career when he had to sit and watch the majority of the time.

"That was really hard for me," he said.

To earn playing time, he knew he had to be more consistent with his shot and hit the weight room.

He bulked up to 225 and began showing promise at the start of this season.

Zargaryan's emergence came when Dominguez Hills guard Michael Cox broke his hand in November and missed his team's next seven games.

"We were all depressed [when Cox was hurt] because we didn't know where we were going to get production from," Powell said. "I knew we had a bunch of good players. They were all taking subservient roles. We had such a talented team; I implored all of them to step up a little bit. I was excited to see which guys could do it."

Zargaryan was quick to show that he could lead.

In the first game after Cox's injury, Zargaryan poured in a season-high 21 points and had 10 rebounds. Two games later, he had 15 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, then followed those games with 12- and 16-point performances.

Dominguez Hills won all four of those games and Zargaryan was primed to lead for the rest of the season.

"I felt that was an opportunity for me to establish myself," Zargaryan said. "The coaches knew what I could do. Coach Ward knew what I was capable of. As a senior, I knew if I could shine at this point, even when Mike does come back, my role would still be there."

Zargaryan leads his team in scoring with 11.9 points per game and is second in assists at 1.8 per contest. He's shooting 50% from the field and 83% from the foul line while leading Dominguez Hills during a historic run.

Dominguez Hills is fourth in the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches poll, the highest ranking in the history of the program.

Zargaryan is a big reason for the Toros' recent success. He was selected as the Wilson/California Collegiate Athletic Assn. Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 17-23 after leading the Toros to a sweep against Sonoma State and a win against then-20th-ranked Humboldt State, which gave Dominguez Hills sole possession of first place in the conference. He had 16 points on four-of-seven shooting against Sonoma State and a game-high 19 points against Humboldt State.

His exploits and the Toros' success have earned Dominguez Hills the top seed in the first NCAA west region poll of the year.

By the end of the season, Dominguez Hills has its sights set on playing at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., on March 26 for the Division II championship.

"We're not ranked No. 4 in the nation on accident," Zargaryan said. "You have to be doing something positive. We only have one goal in mind. That's to win the championship."

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