Armenian Basketball Classic heads to LA for first time

The players of the Armenian National Basketball Team have been holding intense practice sessions around the clock as they count down to tip-off with a big game ahead against France this weekend.

It's a major milestone as this marks the first time the Armenian National Basketball Team will be playing in the United States.

The team is being coached by Rex Kalamian who is also the assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons and was once an assistant coach for the LA Clippers. Next season, he will be part of Monty Williams’ coaching staff who was named the NBA’s Coach of Year in 2022 during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns. 

"I've been in the NBA as an assistant coach for over 25 years and [winning] last year's gold medal in a championship game in Malta was probably the most proud I've been of a team that I've been with," Kalamian said. 

He continued to say, "The resilience that they showed and just the professionalism – the respect that these guys have for each other, for the game, for the staff, and for our fans is amazing."

Detroit Pistons Assistant Coach Rex Kalamian. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The matchup against Team France marks the Armenian National Team’s opening game of the 2023 season. It’s also the team’s first game back since their come-from-behind Finals victory over Malta that secured them a gold medal in the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries last July.  

"My attitude going into this is very positive. I think that what we built last year with our team and what we are building now and with the foundation we're trying to build, it's been very good, and our players are amazing," said Kalamian.

Players are coming in from all over. In addition to the five local players, like 18-year-old Avand Dorian – a recent graduate from AGBU who was selected to represent the team. Dorian says he is thrilled to have this opportunity to play under Coach Rex. 

"I feel so honored to be working with a basketball mastermind like him – he is teaching me so many new things. I have been playing for so long – but some of the basics he is reteaching me," Dorian said. 

"We’re really bringing 14 guys together that have never played together, essentially, but in hopefully a short amount of time, four or five practices, we're going to be able to get a team together that can compete and beat France," said Kalamian.

France is ranked fifth in the world—but that’s not discouraging Coach Rex or the players.

"None of it should be about intimidation – we’re Armenia [and] everyone always has counted us out. Armenia never looks at the ranking, not in terms of basketball, but in terms of life in general. Armenia is always the smallest, we just have to compete – compete until the end—compete until the final whistle, that’s just my mentality," Dorian added.

"It’s going to be a very big challenge for us. We don't have a huge team. I would say the strength of our team is in the guard play, so we're going to have to beat France a different way," Kalamian said. 

He added just because they’re smaller doesn’t mean they are counting themselves out.

"We're not going to beat them with our size and physicality. I think we're going to have to show not only France but the rest of the world that we can beat teams based on guard play, based on pace of play and shooting a lot of three-point shots," said Kalamian.

In addition to those factors — the passionate support from the community adds to the team’s strength.

"The support is huge. We've already had a tremendous amount of support from Armenian businesses and individuals who are supporting our team financially. The resources are huge. All the things that have been given to us and afforded to us by the diaspora here is amazing," said Kalamian.

The team will play back-to-back games against France at Cal State Northridge on Friday, June 16 and Saturday, June 17.

Click here for tickets.