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AGBU boys basketball thriving with players who have grown up together

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COVINA — Ared Sahnazoglu was pacing the sideline. Back and forth, back and forth, switching from his arms crossed to hands in his pockets.

Draped in an all black sweatsuit, he anxiously watched the AGBU boys basketball team compete in the Covina High tournament final against Walnut Thursday night.

If he sat down, it wouldn’t be for long. With each Walnut basket, his frustration grew. With each AGBU turnover, his head would shake. When AGBU’s star player Avand Dorian scored, Sahnazoglu would thrust his fists forward with excitement. As Sahnazoglu paced, watching his nephew play, a sea of faithful AGBU fans cheered and hollered the entire game to provide a boisterous backdrop.

“Our fans are ready and pumped for a 7:30 p.m. game at 7:30 a.m.,” AGBU head coach Nareg Kopooshian said. “If we had a game in San Francisco tomorrow, they’d find a way to get there.”

Amid an era of high school and collegiate athletics flooded with transfers, it can be refreshing to see a school’s fans cheering for team anchored by five seniors who are in their fourth season with the program.

Ryan and Michael Martirossian, Matthew Sahnazoglu, Arpiar Harmandian and Dorian have all played together since they were 8 years old. Now they’re seniors playing for the small private school in Canoga Park with an enrollment of 300 students.

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU rebounds against Joby Barnes #3 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Michael Martirossian #23 of AGBU fights for the rebound against James Lee #30 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gavin Ibrahim #15 of Walnut shoots over Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU reacts late in the in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game against Walnut at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gavin Ibrahim #15 of Walnut shoots over Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Michael Martirossian #23 of AGBU drives to the basket against Christian Aquino #0 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU reacts late in the in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game against Walnut at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU reacts late in the in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game against Walnut at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU shoots against Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU rebounds against Joby Barnes #3 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU blocks the shot by Gavin Ibrahim #15 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Christian Aquino #0 of Walnut blocks the shot by Michael Martirossian #23 of AGBU in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Avand Dorian #10 of AGBU fights for the loose ball against Adrian Triplett #4 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gavin Ibrahim #15 of Walnut shoots against AGBU in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Michael Martirossian #23 of AGBU fights for the rebound against James Lee #30 of Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Kopooshian coached them before they reached high school.

“I’ve watched them all grow up,” Kopooshian said. “They’ve come a long way from the Bronze-level AAU tournaments we used to play in.”

Kopooshian took over at AGBU in 2018, and what he’s done in the past three seasons is remarkable. The team has moved up from Division 5AA in 2020-21 to Division 3A last season, and now into Division 2A for the 2022-23 campaign.

AGBU is 40-6 under Kopooshian in that span, including a 21-1 record last year.

The Titans have moved up the ranks with homegrown talent with their passionate fans in tow, which includes parents and family rocking AGBU Titans gear from head to toe.

“I appreciate their passion,” Kopooshian said.

During Thursday night’s game, an official went over to Kopooshian and asked him to help tame the AGBU crowd. They were getting a little rowdy, and so was the Walnut side.

AGBU fans reacts against Walnut in the second half of the Covina Boys Basketball Tournament Championship game at Covina High School in Covina on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

“Every once in a while I have to look over there,” Kopooshian said laughing. “But it’s never a problem.”

The Titans fell to Walnut 72-61 despite Dorian’s 35 points. Walnut is also in Division 2A, so the game served as a litmus test for AGBU, which is ready to welcome a new challenge this postseason.

“We didn’t win, but we proved to ourselves that we belong,” said Kopooshian. “That’s all we need.”

AGBU (11-3) is in a new league after winning back-to-back Independent League titles. The Titans are in the Liberty League with other small, capable programs Oakwood (8-6), Pilibos (7-8), Yeshiva (15-4) and Milken (6-9). The Titans have played three league games this season, topping Milken and Yeshiva but falling to Oakwood.

AGBU’s success is in its process. The success is in its growth. However, Kopooshian says his team is not shy of a lofty goal — a CIF title.

“We’ve passed the test in regards to progress,” Kopooshian said. “We want to achieve our goals now. I think we’re right on schedule. But of course, there’s more work to do.”

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