First published in the July 16 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
In last week’s final of the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries, Armenia’s men’s national basketball team defeated Malta. It was a victory that resonated and had roots all the way back to Glendale.
The win continued to reverberate on July 8 in the blue gym on the main campus of the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat as three members of the team with local ties were honored by a group of community leaders and chapter members.
Honored were national team players Andre Mkrtchyan Spight, Andre Zohrabian and Gabriel Ajemian, fresh back from their tournament victory.
“Glendale is home,” Spight said. “I’m from Burbank, California, which is two seconds down the road, so it’s the same thing. The support that we have here, is the same as the support we have in Armenia. This is Armenia. Glendale is pretty much Armenia … Just to have Glendale and Armenia have our backs, just messaging us the whole time through, just knowing they have our backs, was all we needed.”
Spight and Zohrabian are members of the Glendale chapter, and Ajemian belongs to the chapter in Pasadena.
“I grew up here in the Ararat chapter,” Spight said. “I’ve been here since I was 11 years old, and this is my home as well. I’m so happy to be part of Ararat Homenetmen [and] just all of Glendale sports.”
It was the second European Championship for Small Countries title for the Armenian Men’s National team, which also won in 2016 as the squad made its official debut in FIBA competition. Spight was the MVP in 2016 and became a repeat champion in 2022, where he was second on the squad in points, rebounds and assists.
“The experience was just amazing. It doesn’t even compare to 2016’s team or vibe or energy,” Spight said. “It was just amazing to come out there and represent for our country, that being Armenia.”
For Zohrabian, who joined the Glendale chapter last year, being on the national team was a new experience.
“For me, as a rookie coming in, I really didn’t know what to expect, but it was just awesome,” Zohrabian said. “Everything from being coached by an NBA coach [Rex Kalamian], to having an assistant coach that is in the NBA as well, and having numerous teammates who have experience overseas playing professionally. It was just something I can learn a lot from and I’ve taken a lot from it.”
In the 2022 edition, Armenia defeated Gibraltar and San Marino in group play and beat Andorra in the semifinals before defeating Malta in the 84-68 after going down early.
“We were down 12-0 and then it was 13-2. After that, we just woke up and then in that second quarter we never looked back,” Spight said. “We had a double-digit lead pretty much the whole game [after that]. It was scary [going down early]. We finally got punched in the face for the first time in that tournament, but we responded well.”
All three players agreed the final was the biggest test. Malta’s center, Samuel Deguara, stood 7 feet, 7 inches, presenting quite a challenge.
“I feel like as the main threat we contained him to the point that he kind of started giving up,” Zohrabian said. “It got to the point where we were in his head, and when we realized that, we just kept pushing.”
The celebration back in Glendale featured remarks from a couple of the executive board members of the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat, including Henrik Sardarbegian, who was the emcee of the event.
“It was a great feat for us as a small nation,” Sardarbegian said of the title.
Roobina Arshakian, executive board chairwoman, also spoke and presented the three players with certificates of achievement. A representative from the Pasadena chapter also spoke before Glendale Mayor Ardashes “Ardy” Kassakhian said some words and presented the trio of hoopsters each a Mayor’s Commendation.
“These guys are now athletes who are champions who have represented Glendale on the international stage,” Kassakhian said.
The players then each spoke to the assembled crowd, thanking all those who had helped them along the road. Last was Spight, who had faced some friendly criticism for the brevity of his remarks after the 2016 title, and he had prepared a speech of some length this time, specifically highlighting his gratitude toward his parents and girlfriend in attendance.