LA CRESCENTA — Coming off a spring in which he guided the Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball team to the CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinals, Falcons Coach Shawn Zargarian spent the past week of his summer molding some younger players into possibly becoming the next generation of high school players.
Year after year, Zargarian's Falcons program draws on the talent of the surrounding community to field a Pacific League, and in the case of the past year, CIF title-contending team and for the seventh straight year, Coach Z's Basketball Camp did its part in making sure that bedrock remains strong at the youth level.
"It's nice to see some of these kids who started here as 9- and 10-year-olds and go all the way to when they're 13 and end up playing for us here in high school," said Zargarian, who counts 2012 graduate Christian Misi and incoming senior point guard Cole Currie among the alumni of his camp who have gone on to don the Falcons jersey. "But we hope this is not just a basketball camp, it's a camp where you can come and have a good time and learn other skills and get into shape."
About 90 kids turned out at the Crescenta Valley gymnasium Monday through Friday to do just that under the guidance of Zargarian and his staff of assistant coaches and current and former Falcons players.
"It's been steady around 80 [campers] for the last four or five years," Zargarian said. "[Going up in numbers] is a good sign. Having 90-100 kids running around gets a little overwhelming, but if it wasn't for my coaches helping me out with all the different groups, it would be hard to do."
In similar fashion to previous installments, each day's camp session begins with a morning shootaround followed by stretching before the campers break off into stations focusing on fundamentals of shooting, dribbling, screening, defensive positioning and rebounding.
But 10-year-old Max Landa of Monte Vista Middle School didn't hesitate when asked what his favorite part of the camp was.
"The scrimmages," said Landa, who added that the morning tutorials give him new moves to try out in the afternoon scrimmage sessions. "I learned how to do the behind-the-back dribble and I used that in a game."
The scrimmages are so popular that Zargarian said he curtailed the amount of guest speakers scheduled this year to designate more time for scrimmaging in the afternoons.
But there were still plenty of former Falcons dropping by throughout the week to pass on some wisdom from their days as college and professional players.
This year's visitors included Andrius Raguaskas, who is in his 10th year as a professional in Europe, Narbeh Ebrahimian, who played at GCC and is now at San Diego State, and Matt Oliver, a former player at Azusa Pacific.
"I like to bring in younger guys, so they can go through shooting drills, they do some dunking and the kids get all excited, so it's cool," Zargarian said.
CV alumnus Eric Strangis, who graduated in the spring from USC, where he made the basketball team as a walk-on, has helped out at the camp since its debut when he was still in high school.
"It's fun to see the little guys get older," Strangis said. "It's fun to watch their game develop."
Strangis had some simple yet valuable advice for aspiring players.
"Soak up everything that everybody has to say," he said. "Every coach, every counselor wherever you go has something that they can teach you, whether it's a different part of your game or a certain experience.
"I remember being a kid at camp, the first thing is to soak up as much as you can, the second thing is to work harder than anybody else."
Zargarian's staff made a positive impact on the campers, according to 13-year-old Max Meyer of Rosemont Middle School.
"I like working with the college and high school players," said Meyer, who returned to the camp after a two-year hiatus and hopes to play for Zargarian in the near future.
"It definitely means a lot to know that we're doing it the right way and that the camp is growing and kids want to come back to it," Zargarian said.
In another camp tradition, the bleachers were brought down and the scoreboard lit up for Friday's final session, in which full-court five-on-five games were played before an audience of parents.
A trophy ceremony followed, culminating a week in which daily awards were given out for performance and improvement, one of which held special significance for 12-year-old Micaela Cacho-Negrete, one of only two girls in attendance.
"It's a lot more challenging because I definitely think [the boys] think of me as a girl, so it's harder sometimes to play with them, but I think they're [giving me] more respect," the Rosemont student said. "Coach Z has been great. I was a little uncomfortable the first day because the boys were definitely doing their own thing and ignoring me and I did tell him I wasn't sure if I wanted to come back the next day. He totally helped me through it and I came back the next day and he was really supportive and I did get player of the day [Tuesday] because I worked so hard. All the coaches have been great."