Ararat's D-League building a foundation

GLENDALE — A year ago, he was on the basketball court at Hoover High, directing the Tornadoes and managing his way through the Pacific League.

A year later, Martik Ghookasian is still donning his dress shirt and pants that he was accustomed to wearing at Hoover, but he's pacing another court.

It's still a basketball court, and it's still in Glendale, but instead of being concerned about high school girls' basketball players, Ghookasian is supervising athletes at the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter's basketball Developmental League.

"I love this job," says Ghookasian, a 1998 Hoover graduate who served as an assistant coach for the Tornado girls' team for nine seasons before being the head coach for two years.

Ghookasian is the league's program manager, and handles the registration process, creates balanced and competitive teams and finds volunteer coaches, in addition to building the master game and practice schedules.

"I have no social life," he jokes while watching a practice at the D-League's home, the Ararat North Campus.

Tomik Abrahamian, the league's director, realized he was running out of time each day while trying to balance fatherhood — he has two boys, Aren, 14, and Arvin, 10 — and the responsibilities that went with the organization.

That's when he brought Ghookasian along to help.

Abrahamian and Ghookasian have developed a league that is unlike its partner, the Glendale Ararat chapter, which was founded in 1978 and is the largest of the 19 Chapters in the Western United States Region with approximately 2,300 members.

There are no tryouts for the D-League, players are guaranteed to play at least half of every game and every player receives a complementary uniform at the end of each season. The D-League has a winter and fall season that each run for 14 weeks and an 11-week summer session.

The D-League launched in 2009 and Abrahamian has only seen growth since, as the membership has grown from 350 to 550 to approximately 900 this year.

"The goal of this program was to allow every kid to have the freedom to play basketball, to not make it about competition, but to make it about having fun and gaining confidence," Abrahamian said.

Abrahamian said the key difference between the D-League and the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat chapter is the parent involvement.

"We are the model for the future of Ararat," he said. "This league is fully run by the parents. We've been able to bring the parent involvement that Ararat has been striving for."

Abrahamian counts dozens of parents who have taken the time to mentor enthusiastic youngsters who play in the various programs, from the Junior NBA players (ages 4-5), to the PAC-10 (6-7), and the SEC (8-9), ACC (10-11) and NBA (12 and up).

Vick Vosgueritchian, a 1988 Hoover graduate, has two sons in the program, Andrew, 6, and Armand, 8.

Vosgueritchian volunteers his time at Ararat's main campus, but he says the environment is different at the D-League.

"The atmosphere is amazing," he said. "The teamwork is amazing. Everybody just knows each other and helps each other."

The league is also open to residents who live outside of Glendale.

"I see the difference with my kids in this program," said Hasmig Demirdjian, a Pasadena resident who also has two boys — Alec, 8, and Aren, 6, — in the program. "They are very organized and my kids have advanced in basketball."

Abrahamian and Ghookasian hope to continue to grow the program in the coming years with parents like Demirdjian and volunteers like Vosgueritchian.

Their projections are to have at least 500 athletes participating in each one of their three seasons in two years.

Beyond that, "we're going into unchartered territory," Abrahamian said.

Said Ghookasian: "My sole focus is to grow this league as much as possible."

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