Dikran Zabunyan has only been in town for about four months, but he’s settling in nicely.
Well, he’s trying to, anyway. He had to fly across the country once to be entered in the All Canada Phase 1 Basketball Hall of Fame, but other than that, he’s just going about his business as the new general manager of Painter’s Lodge, April Point and Quarterdeck Hotel and Marina in Port Hardy.
While hotels and resorts are his livelihood – he’s been managing them for 31 years, now – basketball is his passion, and he credits the sport with who he has become as a person and a manager.
But when his family first immigrated to Canada from Turkey when he was 13 years old, he actually wanted to play soccer. Those dreams were short-lived, however, when he was cut from his first team shortly after joining up. He then joined the basketball team at his local church in Toronto, and after meeting Armenak Alajajian, a Russian coach and Olympic-medal-winning member of the Soviet National Team, there was no looking back.
“He made me who I am today, in a lot of ways,” Zabunyan says. “He showed me how to be a tough competitor with good values, a good teammate and taught me the importance of being a leader and developing winning habits.”
Zabunyan went on to have an impressive basketball career which included playing professional basketball back in Turkey for a while after his college career at Ryerson and Centennial College, returning to Canada and forming the Royal City Express in Windsor, Ont., moving it to Toronto, renaming it the GT Express, which was ranked the number two team in Canada, behind only the Toronto Raptors.
Most recently, Zabunyan served as the general manager and head coach of the Vancouver Dragons, leading the team to a 25-2 record and capturing the 2018 MLBA Championship. And whenever he has the chance, he helps out with youth basketball programs, high school teams and anyone else that needs a hand in the sport.
“It’s been a humbling career,” he says, settling into one of the chairs in the lobby of Painter’s Lodge. “It’s hitting me now. I’m just coming down (from being entered in the Hall of Fame).”
Zabunyan says there are a lot of similarities between basketball and hotel management, and he strives to bring his experience in each to the other venue.
“Running a hotel properly is like building a championship basketball team,” he says. “It starts at the top with good ownership that has a vision, and then down to management, who can build a team that will work together, play their positions well and once you have all the right players in place, you have to practice, and eventually, you become a championship team. It’s the same in this business.
“My job here, just like when I coach, is to put people in situations that give the team the best chance to win,” he says.
And that’s exactly his goal for Painter’s Lodge. He joins the team from the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort on the Sunshine Coast and says, “we were voted, for two years in a row, the top luxury hotel in B.C., and we’re going to take that title from them.”
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s still going to be involved in basketball. He’ll be coaching the senior boys team at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary in Comox starting in November.
“The teams here had already been established when I started asking,” he says. “It keeps me busy in the off-season, and gives me the opportunity to mentor and develop more kids. Hopefully we’ll win a few games along the way.”
Oh, and you can bet there is going to be basketball court installed up at Painter’s in the very near future.