First published in the Nov. 19 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Boys’ basketball players are taking the court for a new season at Crescenta Valley, Glendale and Hoover. All are prepared for the journey that will include the more familiar scheduling in the Pacific League, where each team plays a home and away versus every member, after abandoning the two-tier experiment.
“It’s a 14-game gauntlet,” Hoover coach Jack Van Patten said.
The Falcons won the Pacific League title last season before being upset in the second round of the playoffs on the road, experience that should serve them well this season.
“Hopefully, this group got to learn some valuable lessons [last season] as far as what it takes to win a league championship and what it takes to make a run in the CIF playoffs, regardless of what your rankings are or if you are playing at home or on the road,” coach Shawn Zargarian said.
However, all five starters from that squad have graduated; “That hasn’t happened to us in quite a while,” Zagarian said. It means the defense of the coveted title will be by a new starting five, but Crescenta Valley is ready to give it a try.
“We have a lot of work to do. We are excited to play some actual games and tournaments and really gauge where we are as far as a team,” Zargarian said. “I like our group. I’m excited about them.”
Crescenta Valley looks to be potent from beyond the arc and eager to push the pace on offense.
“Our three-point shooting this year is high-level. We are capable of making a lot of threes,” Zargarian said. “There will be situations where we have five guys on the floor, two of them having good size that can really spread the floor and shoot it. So we’ll really rely on three-point shooting. Also, we play pretty darn fast, faster than we normally play, so we’re going to try to get up and down as fast as we can. Whether teams are scoring or not, the ball will be inbounded pretty quickly and pushed the other way.”
Senior Mikail Grigoryan will be tapped to start at point guard, after backing up that position last season.
“He’s super quick,” Zargarian said. “He’s explosive off the dribble. He can get to the rim. He can shoot the three ball. He’s a feisty defender. So, he’ll be one of our main guys.”
Starting at the two guard will be Vaughn Zargarian, a sophomore who saw varsity minutes last campaign and is the coach’s son.
“He helps us because he can really spread the floor and shoot the ball. Honestly, being a year older, bigger and stronger, his IQ has picked up a little bit. His physicality and ability to get to the basket has really picked up.”
Forward Armen Yetenkian is returning to the program for his senior year after being gone for two years with back issues and has been a pleasant surprise.
“He is built like an ox. He’s athletic and can finish above the rim,” Shawn Zargarian said. “He has a beautiful shot and can take you off the dribble. So, he’s been a real nice addition to our team.’
The starting center will be senior Alex Altounian, who was the backup at the position last season and has shown rebounding prowess.
“He’s one of those guys you just can’t take off the floor.”
Also in the fold will be Logan Freemon at forward, a junior who also plays water polo.
The Falcons are angling for a long playoff journey taking them who knows where, but first things first.
“To me, the CIF playoffs are just magical, but again, our ultimate goal is to be able to defend that league championship and to try to get another one if we can,” the coach added.
At Glendale High there will be a new face on the sidelines as Art Samontina takes over the head coaching duties for the Nitros. Samontina, who started in June, has a wealth of coaching experience in various capacities and is a coach for Prodigy basketball. Additionally, he has worked extensively as a basketball trainer at many levels.
“Our expectation is to be much better than what we did last season,” he said. “[We’ll be playing] a different system, more of an NBA-style offense and aggressive defense. Our goal really is to win league. That is the ultimate goal, and to get into the playoffs. Sometimes the expectation on your first year is really not that high, but for me I have a high standard. We want to get there.”
With a new system going in, it has been a learning process, especially for the returning varsity players.
“A lot of those kids have been playing the [old] system for three or four years and they go back to the system where they [isolate] everything and have less ball movement, but that is why I’ve had them playing games throughout the summer so we can get rid of those kinks and get ready for the season.”
The coach sees his team’s shooting as a strength that should continue to grow.
“Because I’m a trainer, I train high school and college players to shoot,” Samontina said. “Along with practice I stay extra hours to teach these guys to shoot from different angles, be it dribbling the ball or moving off the ball.”
The captains will be twins Nico and Tino Zadorian.
“They have been putting in a lot of work. They have leadership and they are vocal. They set the tone.”
Center Dior Pierre, a senior, is an example of a player who will be given license to do even more under the new regime.
“In the old system he used to be a guy that would stay in the paint; now I kind of give him freedom to move around off the ball [and] shoot, which he wasn’t doing as much last season,” Samontina said.
Joining Dior in the starting five will be his brother, junior Christian Pierre.
Josh Ballard, who can play several positions, is the lone sophomore on the roster.
Coach Jack Van Patten likes what he sees so far in this year’s group of Tornados.
“We are small, but we are aggressive and our guard play is pretty good. Everybody gets along. We share the ball really well. They want to play defense. It’s a fun group to coach. It’s a young group, but experienced. We’re looking to have a great season.”
Consequently, Van Patten feels like the Pacific League title and a playoff spot are within reach: “Those are always a couple of our goals going forward.”
The team’s mantra will once again be one they borrowed, but have made their own: “No excuse, just produce.”
Flexibility on defense looks to be a strength for Hoover.
“We are all interchangeable on defense. That is a big piece. We don’t really worry about matchups at all,” Van Patten said.
On offense, the Tornados have the green light to shoot.
“We never pull a kid out for missing shots. We may pull a kid out because he took a shot he shouldn’t take, but not for missing a shot,” Van Patten said. “We encourage our kids to shoot.”
Junior Zack Van Patten, the coach’s son, will be at point guard and is “pretty solid.” Continuing the family connection is senior Jenghiz Van Patten, the coach’s nephew, who will be counted on to rebound: “He gets after it, so we expect big things from him on the boards.”
Hoover is especially keen on freshman Justin Herrera and the promise he brings for now and the future.
“I think we have the best freshman in the area,” Jack Van Patten said of Herrera. “He a good shooter. He’s a good teammate. He plays good defense. He seems to understand the game.”