Falcons open Pacific League play at Muir on Friday with a much different look than last season.
By Brandon HENSLEY
The Crescenta Valley High School Falcons boys’ basketball team kicks off its Pacific League schedule on Friday, and what a test it will be. The Falcons will travel to Muir for a 7 p.m. date with a team that won four games last year.
Only four? Well, on the court, the Mustangs won 24 games and captured the league title over Pasadena, but in February it was reported that Muir had an ineligible player (a change of address had not been verified). The program had to forfeit 20 games and missed the playoffs because the paperwork, including completed changes, was turned in a day late.
Muir has responded this season so far with a 7-7 record. A key returner for the team is senior Jelani Mitchell, who is averaging almost 15 points a game to go along with eight rebounds.
CV lost both games to Muir last season, and that was with a loaded lineup that made it to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs. The Falcons enjoyed their finest season since 1994 – they lost in the Southern Section championship game that year – and qualified for the state playoffs.
But that team had a ton of experience in Rudy Avila, Tade Keshishyan, Christian Misi and Davis Dragovich. So, that Muir game …
“You could say it’s a measuring stick of where we’ll be,” said assistant coach Eric Strangis.
CV is currently 9-4 and is led by senior guard Cole Currie, as well as senior Elliot Wilson and junior Eric Patten, who play forward and center.
Strangis is a newcomer to the coaching staff, led by Head Coach Shawn Zargarian. He joins DoVall Boykins and Michael Crownover. Strangis played four years on the varsity for Zargarian, and was attending Cal Lutheran University when he decided he still wanted to fulfill his dream of playing Division I basketball.
He transferred to Moorpark Junior College, and then to USC as a student. He made the Trojan squad as a walk-on, and in his senior season last year he averaged 13 minutes of playing time.
Last summer, he was next to Zargarian on the bench for CV’s summer league games.
“Playing here, there’s a real sense of pride. Playing for Coach Z meant a lot,” Strangis said. “I always wanted to get into coaching afterward, stay involved and be a part of that tradition.”
Forward Nick Springer said Strangis and the rest of the staff have the team well prepared.
“Practices are hard. I would say they’re harder than last year,” Springer said.
Springer was a transfer a couple of seasons ago. He came from the Virgin Islands, and said being on a talent-laden team at CV opened his eyes.
“Seeing those [past guys], those guys are really good,” he said. “They really played their butts off and that woke me up because where I was from, I was the best guy and was used to being fed the ball all the time. And I come here, and there’s a long line of guys in front of me.”
Springer had to wait to get his chance to show off what he can do, but this year he’s shown more aggressiveness on the offensive end. But he said that’s not what he’s about.
“Whatever I have to do to help this team win,” he said. “As coach said in the meeting, you have to do your part. Don’t worry about filling the stat sheet.”
Strangis just wants the effort to be there. He considers himself a defensive-minded coach, and in a game last month, saw the Falcons give up eight 3-pointers to Westlake in the first quarter, a game CV lost.
“Yeah, I wasn’t too happy about it,” he said.
“It starts with our effort. Our guys will get to the point where they’re playing maximum effort all the time … We believe that if [effort] is our goal then the measure of statistics and everything like that kind of takes care of itself.”
The key to standing up to Muir and the physical play of teams like Burbank and Pasadena (which won its Southern Section title last year and still has the very talented, very large forward Brandon Jolley) is going to be the leadership of Currie.
Currie has played all four years on varsity, like Strangis did. His role has increased every year, and this time it’s going to be about both carrying the scoring load and showing by example.
“As a fourth-year guy, I’ve been through a lot,” Currie said about taking on responsibility. “Especially with the guys we have now. They’re inexperienced. You have to tell them things here and there.”
Strangis saw Currie play his first summer league game when he was a freshman and is proud of his development.
“He’s a hard worker,” he said. “He works on his game. He’s relentless in that, and I hope that I can give him some things that I’ve learned in my days to kind of help him out.”
To help Currie out with the ball handling is sophomore guard Berj Krikorian. The small-sized Krikorian reminds Zargarian of a throwback kind of guard the program has lacked recently.
“We haven’t had a typical, true point guard the last couple years. Berj is that guy,” Zargarian said. “In the fall, he played some tough games for us, and we allowed him to have the ball in his hands.”
“He picks up everything,” said Currie. “He sees everything. He sees the floor. As the season goes on he’s going to be special.”
After Muir, CV plays at Glendale High School on Monday at 5 p.m. and Wednesday at CV against Burbank at 5 p.m.