Dikran Zabunyan is one of those rare basketball coaches who cares more about giving back to the sport of basketball and improving the development of his athletes.
“I think I owe something to the game. It made me the person I am today,” said Zabunyan.
“I’m a five-foot-eleven player, underdog always, I feel like I need to make a contribution to the game because I owe the game a lot.”
Zabunyan is the new general manager of Hudson Bay Mountain and is also the new assistant coach with the Smithers Secondary senior boys’ basketball team.
“These young men are thankful that you coach them, whereas the higher you go, there’s no thank-yous,” said Zabunyan.
“I’ve been blessed to coach some amazing players in Smithers.”
Zabunyan comes to Smithers after working at various hotels around the country, including Ontario and the Yukon.
While he has loads of experience in the hotel industry, Zabunyan’s secret talent is in basketball.
He moved to Canada from Turkey when he was 13 years old.
When Zabunyan and his family moved to Toronto, he decided to join a recreational soccer league, a sport that is big in his homeland, Turkey.
But his dreams of playing soccer were short-lived when he was cut from the team.
“I attended the Armenian church, they had a junior team and I enrolled there and picked up a basketball,” he said.
Only a few years later, Zabunyan would meet Armenak Alajajian, a Russian coach who played on the Soviet national team in the Tokyo Olympics and a point guard with the Russian Red Army team.
“He was my first real coach who taught me values on the court and also it helped me out in future business,” said Zabunyan. “He taught me good values, winning habits, he taught me to control the intensity that you had to maintain during games and I continued that through my career in business as well.”
Zabunyan went on to play high school and college basketball before returning to Turkey where he would spend five years playing pro-basketball with the team Fenerbahce.
With nearly 15 years of playing hoops, he went on to do something that most people don’t even consider — starting his own pro-men’s basketball team and hand-picking all the players himself.
In 1994, in Windsor, Ontario, Zabunyan formed the Royal City Express (it was later renamed the GT Express when Zabunyan moved back to Toronto and continued the team there).
According to Zabunyan, the team was ranked the number two team in Canada behind the Toronto Raptors.
In an almost unheard of feat, the team also travelled to the United States to compete against several NCAA Division 1 teams, including Michigan, Pittsburgh and Rhode Island.
In total, he walked away with 387 wins and 168 losses.
Zabunyan stopped coaching the GT Express in 2006 when he moved to the Yukon for new work opportunities.
Now, at 55 years old, Zabunyan is dedicating his time and coaching abilities to helping out the Gryphons this season.
Matt Lowndes, head coach of the Gryphons, said Zabunyan called him after seeing Mini-Gryphs posters and offered to help out
“You can’t replace experience and the passion. He’s been living the game his entire life,” said Lowndes. “It’s sort of rubbed off on our kids, they like having him in the gym.
“We’re pretty lucky to have someone of his quality in this town.”
Lowndes also hopes Zabunyan’s connections will help local kids get nods for college basketball scholarships.
“All I can provide them with is that there is a future after basketball,” said Zabunyan.
“Teach them good habits and good values and share my life experience with them, that basketball can be a possibility, but it’s not the only thing.”
Though he’s taken a back seat to coaching, his passion for basketball remains.
“When I walk in the gym, I get shivers,” he said, adding that soon he’ll take a step back after 17 years of coaching, but will continue to support the sport.