First published in the Nov. 26 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It’s boys’ basketball season once again for Burbank and Burroughs, and both schools are opening a fresh campaign competing in the tough Pacific League, with dreams of a postseason run.
This season, coach Sid Cooke is not sure what he has yet. With just one returning starter and a lot of new faces, the team is still a work in process.
“We want to just get better and hope the kids can understand what is expected,” Cooke said. “We have a lot of inexperience. We played some good teams in the fall, but it’s fall, that isn’t real, so hopefully they can adjust to varsity basketball. … I’m not going to expect too much. We just kind of hope they can pick things up and they do the things we ask them to do to be successful.”
The Bulldogs will not be focusing on their record, although the playoffs are still a goal.
“I tell them don’t worry about wins and losses; just keep pushing and keep playing hard [and] keep doing the right things. The main thing is playing the right way,” Cooke said. “At the end of the year we’ll probably be better than we were at the beginning; that is everyone’s hope.”
The lone returning starter will be senior Sattwik Banerjee, who was All-Pacific League last season and will be a captain.
“Sattwik is going to be our leader. [The opposition] is going to key on him, so the other guys have got to step up,” the coach said.
The other captain will be Liam Baker, a senior who came off the bench last season.
Taking the step up to be a contributor at the varsity level will be junior guard Omar Payind, who was the JV MVP last campaign and is “playing well.”
A bit of a surprise is Steven Harutyunian, a front court player who is a transfer from Grant High School in San Fernando. Cooke says the senior is “probably our best defender.”
“He barely played at Grant, but he grew in the summer like three inches, he got in the weight room and, all of a sudden — we weren’t planning on using him — but he started playing pretty well.”
Also in the mix is sophomore guard Kevin Debashian.
“This year is just about getting better after each game and learning from it,” Cooke said.
Burbank also knows the Pacific League will also be a challenge to navigate.
“The variety of different teams and different coaches makes it so you’ve got to be on your toes … because everyone has different things they bring to the table,” he added.
Last season, the Bears had some success in the postseason, an experience that they hope to build on.
“We have a group of guys that were part of last year’s team that got to experience the highs and the lows, and experience our fighting hard to reach the playoffs and winning in the first round. So they are eager to have their opportunity and play this year after experiencing what happened last year,” coach Allan Ellis said.
The coach already likes what he is seeing with this season’s squad.
“It is one of my most competitive teams, if not the most competitive team, that I’ve had at Burroughs, and the most resilient team that I’ve been a part of in a very long time,” said Ellis, in his seventh year at the school. “They are eager to play and they really, really want to win. We’re young, filled with mostly guards, but we’re scrappy, play hard and can definitely shoot the basketball.”
The team goals are to compete for the Pacific League title and definitely make the top four to earn a playoff berth.
“Our strengths are our on-the-ball defense, our ability to push the ball, get out and play with pace and create more opportunities for ourselves on offense,” Ellis said. “[Another strength] is our ability to shoot the basketball, and we definitely have guards that can break down the defense and collapse the defense and we are, for the most part, unselfish.”
One challenge facing the Bears is rebounding.
“The biggest challenge is to make sure we do team rebounding,” Ellis said. “We are not as big as we have been in the past, but we’re still able to combat that if we box out as a unit and we all attack the glass and do what we are supposed to do from a fundamental perspective.”
Senior Samuel Horning, a returning starter and a three-year varsity player, will be counted on heavily.
“This year he has become pretty much the leader of the team,” Ellis said. “I’m expecting a lot from him just to lead by example and make sure kids are in the right spots. He’s had an incredible summer to fall and he’s continued to get better. He is one of the hardest workers that I have been around at Burroughs since I’ve been there.”
Seniors Elden Jackson and Tyrell Burell, both two-year varsity players, will also be key in the backcourt.
“Elden is more of a defender and a guy that pushes the pace,” Ellis said. “Tyrell will help us with some ball handling duties and shot creation.”
Junior Chase Kardosh, a varsity returner, will also play a role.
“I’m expecting big things from him,” Ellis said of Kardosh. “He’s gotten a lot stronger from last year. He’s developed. He’s put a lot of work in the gym and I think he is going to have a great year.”
Sophomore guards Jagger Topp and Jacob Samontina will also be important pieces.
“They just make plays. They are smart kids and are definitely basketball gym rats. They make plays for us and are exciting to watch,” the coach said.
New to varsity is Landon Everheart, who will be in the front court and has “improved a lot.” Another key big man will be Arthur Gabrielyan, a junior who “has definitely done a good job of developing,” Ellis added, and should provide help on the boards.