Pair of locals bring back Pan-Armenian gold

A pair of local men's basketball players returned from Armenia with gold medals won at the fifth annual Pan-Armenian Games in the country's capital of Yerevan.

The duo just happened to play for a team from Los Angeles instead of the one from Glendale that was highlighted by former standouts from Hoover and Glendale highs.

Glendale High graduates Vahram Amayakyan and Artin Adjamian each played supporting roles in helping Los Angeles defeat Sochi, Russia, 93-86, on Aug. 21 in the championship game of the Pan-Armenian Games.

"It was by far the best experience of my life as far as basketball goes," said Amayakyan, who graduated with Adjamian from Glendale in 1999.

Sochi ruined the championship aspirations of Glendale a day earlier, defeating Fred Babadjanians' team, 87-82, in overtime. Glendale — representing the Homenetmen Ararat chapter — defeated Tehran, 91-87, in the third-place game.

"I think finishing in third place means a lot more to the rest of the world than to us," said Babadjanians, whose team lost to Sochi in the championship contest of the 2007 games. "Everybody keeps congratulating us for third place, and I question why we're being congratulated. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it's better to finish in third place than not any place."

Babadjanians waited after the bronze-medal game and watched Los Angeles' Mike Danielian, a Grant High graduate who is a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, exhibit his skills against Sochi. Danielian scored 49 points to give Los Angeles its first title and its Coach Carl Bardakian his third title as a player and coach in the Pan-Armenian Games.

"I kept telling the guys that the championship goes through Sochi," said Bardakian, who is America's representative for the Basketball Federation of Armenia and was also assisted by Zorik Isajane, an assistant men's basketball coach at Glendale Community College.

"We knew it would be tough. We felt we prepared hard. We were in a great position to challenge for the title. We had a deeper bench, more experience and we were physically and mentally ready to handle Sochi's run throughout the game.

"It took a great team effort to win the championship."

Glendale and Los Angeles were presented their medals by Armenia President Serzh Sargsyan, a moment both coaches said they'll never forget.

"Having the president be there, it's something I'll remember the rest of my life," Amayakyan said.

Added Babadjanians: "We were told by the organizing committee that the top three finishers would be presented with their medals by the president of Armenia. That made us want to be a part of that [after the loss to Sochi]."

Babadjanians' team wasn't tested until it met Sochi. It won its first five games by an average of 32.4 points, including a 106-40 victory against Montreal in pool play.

"When it came down to our team getting tested, we hadn't been tested," Babadjanians said. "Unfortunately, we had to pass the test on the fly. When our backs were against the wall, and instead of being there before, we had to figure it out on the fly. You can't figure it out on the fly and win championships.

"I really feel like whoever played that semifinal really took a lot of Sochi. I think if the tables were turned and [Los Angeles] played Sochi in the semifinals, I think we would've had success in the championship game."

Glendale's younger men's basketball team – featuring Coach Barsegh Karamanian and Burbank High's Andre Spight, an All-Pacific League selection this past season — won its pool before being eliminated by Bourj Hammoud of Lebanon in the first round of the playoffs. Glendale continued play after losing in the playoffs and finished the tournament 4-3.

"Sometimes with a younger team, it's hard to motivate a younger team to play seven games in seven days," Karamanian said. "My expectations were a little higher. The kids were inexperienced and the inexperience really showed up.

"Our size showed up. We were a relatively short team in the paint. The team we lost to had big centers.

"I believe there are two or three potential players who could play on the first team next time."

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