Aram Arslanian, a sophomore on the Lake Forest College men's basketball team, took his talents overseas this summer to compete within the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) as a member of Armenia's U-20 basketball team. Arslanian was selected to represent Armenia at the Under 20 European Championship - Division B, which was held in Oradea, Romania.
"With new teammates, coaches and facilities we'd be staying at this summer, there was much to look forward to before the trip began," said Arslanian, who also competed in the FIBA U-20 European Championship in 2016.
Prior to departing for the tournament, the team attended a four-week training camp at Armenia's "Olympavan" in Yerevan, where the country's Olympic athletes and national teams train for upcoming competitions. While at camp, Arslanian mentioned that a language barrier was one of the biggest challenges for the team, which was comprised of eight Americans, one Russian, and one from Armenia.
"Getting everyone on the same page was something we struggled with for the entire four weeks," Arslanian commented. Despite the language barrier, "the camp allowed the team to not only work on basketball skills and learn how to communicate effectively with one another, but it also gave us the opportunity to create lifelong friendships too," which Arslanian said was the best part.
Following the training trip, 21 teams hailing from across the globe traveld to Oradea, Romania, seeking the 2017 U-20 European Championship title.
The Armenian team played a total of six games, proving themselves dominant over teams such as Poland and Ireland. They finished in 17th place, which was the same finish as last year.
"Though we had a much better team than last year, we let a few games slip away that would have given us a chance at a better final position," Arslanian said.
Although Team Armenia did not return with a medal, a triumphant 82-80 feat over Azerbaijanis meant more to him than a gold, he said.
"I got goosebumps during the Armenian national anthem because of how much this game meant to our country," he said. "Thousands of people were watching this game and live-streaming it from all over the world. It was a close one."
The game between the two countries weighed so heavily on the players due to a dangerous conflict between the two countries, with thousands who had already lost their lives.
Arslanian said that he had to play a little harder for the people of Armenia, fighting until they regained the lead in the fourth quarter.
"When the buzzer went off it was a great feeling seeing the head of our delegation jump into the arms of our head coach and seeing my teammate, who will serve in the Armenian army after the tournament, crying and hugging each and everyone one of us for coming out with a win," he said.
The 6'6" shooting guard averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, with an average of 33.4 minutes on the court throughout the tournament.
Aside from statistics, Arslanian's heart on the court is something that was noted by Sinan Taze, a journalist for the FIBA who wrote about team Armenia's experience at the tournament on his blog.
"Every time they (Arslanian and Matthew Madoyan) rose for a shot, they made you rise as well and made you pray for that ball to go in," Taze wrote, referencing their game against Finland. "Armenia lost the game by almost 30 points, but these kids won some hearts at that small gym that day even if they were not the best players on their team." He continued, "I mentioned a lion's heart (in a team meeting), and I believe that Arslan means lion in Armenian. It is only fitting," Taze wrote.
After the tournament, Arslanian went back to Armenia where he joined the Men's National Team and competed at the European Cup Qualifying Games, which gave him the chance to play against teams like Bosnia, Sweden, and Slovakia in their respective countries.
"Joining this team also gave me the chance to play with players like Ryan Boatright (University of Connecticut), Andrew Chrabascz (Butler University), and Luke Fischer (Marquette University)," he said. "It also allowed me to travel to more countries and witness what else the world has to offer."
To view a highlight video of Aram Arslanian competing at the tournament, click here.