LA Reigns in First Ever AYF Olympics Basketball Tourney

Varak Ghazarian (San Fernando Valley) in the triple threat position

AYF Olympic Basketball? Wait, basketball isn’t an AYF Olympic sport. It is a late winter/early spring event in the National Athletic Tournament (NATS). What’s basketball doing at the Olympics on a late August Friday? The simple answer is that they are trying something new.

Basketball at the NATS is full court with five person teams. AYF Olympics basketball is half court three-on-three played to 15 points, and you have to win by two. There is no clock, and fouls result in a turnover. It was a great experiment.

Governing Body member Daron Topouzian came up with the idea for adding Basketball to the AYF Olympics. The tournament is based on the Gus Macker rules.

There were five teams in this first tourney. Four of them were from California and one from the Eastern Region—New Jersey. Basketball was scheduled at the same time as tennis and golf. As the Chicago committee was brilliant in having these venues within a few miles of each other, I was able to attend and cover all three events.

The basketball tournament took place in Mt. Prospect, IL. I arrived in time to watch the semi-finals, which were exciting and fast-paced. The players were all in great shape, very athletic; clearly, they had all been on a basketball court before. I thought this could grow into a Friday version of softball in a few years.  

Five teams with unique names participated (The West, Western Region 1, Can’t Touch This, Marzagan Gogortilos, Make Arsen Great Again). 

There were eight games in total. Every team was guaranteed two games. Winners of the first round games played each other in the succeeding rounds. Losers in the first round played each other in the succeeding rounds until the finals. The winners of the winners bracket and losers bracket then faced each other in the finals.

The finals pitted Can’t Touch This Senior Los Angeles team against the New Jersey Make Arsen Great Again team. They had played in the first round as well. LA beat NJ 15-11. NJ went on to win the “losers” bracket, won out and thus faced the same LA again. This final game was quite competitive. The NJ team must have warmed-up or got a great pep talk from coach Garo Sarajian because they played at a different level. 

(L-R) Varak Ghazarian (San Fernando Valley), Eddie Hovannisian (San Fernando Valley), Armen Krikorian (San Fernando Valley), Armand Keosian (San Fernando Valley)

When I spoke with Eddie Hovannisian and Varak Ghazarian of the winning LA team, they were a little surprised that more of the Eastern Region chapters did not have teams as it only requires three people. “Basketball on Friday may be hard to get people out of school and work,” said Hovannisian, who channeled the Kareem Abdul Jabbar jersey he was sporting when he launched a beautiful hook shot from the middle of the key during the game. “I wasn’t sure what to expect in this first year of basketball,” said teammate Ghazarian. “New Jersey really took their game to another level. We had to fight hard to win.” Both agreed that teammates Armen Krikorian and Armand Keossian did a great job. 

(L-R) Nerses Kupelian (New Jersey), Zach Semerijian (Providence), Chris Tarzian (New Jersey), Alex Derian (New Jersey) and coach Garo Sarajian

New Jersey’s Sarajian was happy with his team’s performance, “These guys all played church basketball together and played on their high school teams,” said Sarajian. “Chris Tarzian is a superstar. He hit the game-winning three against the ‘junior’ LA team in the semis. Every time we needed a basket, Chris would take over and Alex Derian and Nerses Kupelian would block out or run picks. Truly, very little coaching was needed.” Chris was indeed awesome. He was everywhere challenging whoever he was guarding when LA had the ball. He quarterbacked the offense when Jersey had the ball. 

All of the players and coaches hope this three-on-three basketball continues in the AYF Olympics. They all want to see more chapters participate and agree that rules on foul reduction and resulting turnovers need to change. The Gus Macker rules call for free throws after the seventh foul.

It would be great to see eight or teams participate next year in Worcester. 

Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

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