Arkadiy Mkrtychyan may be thriving in Idaho now, but it hasn’t always been that way. Mkrtychyan said he came long way to headline for the Idaho basketball team, both physically and mentally.
“I was born in a little country Turkmenistan and my parents moved to Moscow, Russia when I was six,” Mkrtychyan said.
Like many kids, Mkrtychyan was heavily influenced by the athletic background of his parents. Mkrtychyan said his initial experience with athletics was influenced by his father, but it was his mother who brought him into basketball.
“I didn’t play basketball back then,” Mkrtychyan said of his early years abroad. “I was doing Judo because my dad used to be national coach for Judo and my mom decided to take me away from Judo and put me in basketball because judo was too dangerous and it kind of got [stuck].”
Mkrtychyan said the rest was history from there.
“I played basketball a lot,” Mkrtychyan said. “I just fell in love with it — how you shoot, how you post up, making people look silly on the court.”
Down the road, Mkrtychyan said he took his passion for basketball and brought it to the U.S, initially moving to Hawaii with his brother when he was 15 years old to play high school basketball. A year later he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he finished his high school career. From there, he said he was recruited to join the Idaho basketball team.
Mkrtychyan said his reasons for coming to Idaho spanned beyond his athletic ambitions.
“Originally I was coming to college to be a business major and Idaho was getting a new business facility which I really liked,” Mkrtychyan said.
Mkrtychyan said the biggest change in his transition from high school basketball to collegiate was the speed and physicality of the game.
“[In high school] I was getting calls because I was bigger than everybody because they would just run into me and bounced off and [in college] I can be more physical,” Mkrtychyan said. “It’s different.”
With the help of upper classmen and his older brother, Mkrtychyan said he became a better player, both before and during his time as a Vandal.
“It helped having Bira Seck my freshman year,” Mkrtychyan said. “He was a senior back then and it really helped because he taught me a lot of things. Also my brother Allen — he always played floor and the five in college basketball. He taught me how to play physical and stand my ground and stuff, which has helped a lot.”
Mkrtychyan said he takes the game very seriously, but that does not mean he is serious all the time. Off the court he considers himself a happy and easy-going guy.
He describes himself as a funny, outgoing person that is always smiling — but he gets serious once game time rolls around.
Mkrtychyan said his coaches recognize this quality in him and use it to better the team as a whole.
“My head coach, coach [Verlin] always tells me to stay positive,” Mkrtychyan said. “Keep positive energy and give it to my teammates because I am such an energized guy I can give it out to people and make the whole team better.”
Idaho assistant coach Tim Murphy echoed Mkrtychyan’s words, saying he is the type of guy programs want on their team. Murphy said Mkrtychyan has a great off-court personality and assumes the leadership role naturally, but it is a different story when he hits the court.
“Once he gets on that floor he is a warrior,” Murphy said of Mkrtychyan’s game-time mentality. “He takes nothing from the opponents, is always competing and gives 100 percent effort all the time so those are the kind of guys you love having on the team.”
Mkrtychyan said he knows that as a junior and top-performer on the team, it is his turn to step into the leadership role.
“I am a junior, it’s my time to be a leader,” he said. “Because when I was a freshman, senior had different leaders and now it’s my turn.”
Mkrtychyan isn’t the only one who recognizes it is time to be a leader for the Vandals. Murphy said his knowledge of the game and of the Idaho system makes him a leader and crucial to the dynamics of the team.
Because Mkrtychyan has been around longer than many of the other players, he guides behavior on and off the court — when they are traveling and in practice. Murphy said he often acts as a coach for the other athletes as well.
“He is a leader because he knows the system, he has been around it,” Murphy said. “He can tell when a guy is not playing hard in practice and the coach is going to get on him, he’ll go up to him and say, ‘Hey, you need to pick it up a little bit because [coach] is going to get on your butt here in a second’ so he is great that way.”
But Mkrtychyan said he isn’t anywhere near done improving yet.
“I expect myself to just keep going and keep getting better and keep going,” Mkrtychyan said of his future expectations. “More than 10-points, more than 6-7 rebounds a game and just help the team win anyhow I can.”
As he continues to strive for improvement, he said he has his family motivating and inspiring him. He said his brothers and parents push him to be better, but his relationship with his oldest brother holds a special place in his heart.
“My oldest brother Allen, he was like a dad to me when we moved to America because our parents stayed in Russia it was just us three here,” Mkrtychyan said. “He was taking care of me and raising us basically, I was still 15 years old and didn’t know a lot and it. All my family, I’m just thankful for having them.”
Mkrtychyan has had quite an impact in his years as a Vandal, including on his coach. While Murphy said he had a hard time choosing just one memory in all his time with Mkrtychyan, one game from his freshman years stands out and captures his spirit as a player. He said he remembers one game where Mkrtychyan was playing aggressive, causing the opponents to repeatedly crash into his large stature.
“Then one time he got a 3-point play and just screamed up at the audience and the fans,” Murphy said of the game. “And it got everyone going crazy. I think he got a technical for it but it was one of those ‘Ark’ moments. His emotions get away with him. He has gotten some technical fouls because of it because he just lets his emotions go.”
In his time at Idaho, Mkrtychyan said every moment has been special to him because, win or lose, he knows he has a family in the team.
“Every game is a memory to me because every game we come off as a team — one family, Mkrtychyan said. “We fight together and honestly it just makes me happy when we fight somebody together.”
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org