COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO - Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, a 6-7 sophomore from Columbia Christian High, has helped the Idaho Vandals be competitive in their second season of Big Sky basketball.The life of basketball player Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, known as “Ark” to friends and teammates, has taken him from his native Turkmenistan to Moscow to Honolulu to Vancouver, Wash., to a Portland high school and to the University of Idaho in another Moscow.

It’s also seen him come back from a dislocated knee cap in the offseason that required surgery and led to a slow start this season after a strong freshman year for the Vandals.

“I came back a month ago, but then I reinjured it,” says Mkrtychyan, who is averaging 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17 games, a year after averaging 8.8 and 4.8 and playing in all 30 games. “I’m going to be a go-to guy.”

He’s been part of a strong Portland connection on the Vandals (12-8, 4-3 Big Sky), who will play host to Portland State on Saturday.

However, the other Vandal from Portland, former Jefferson High standout Victor Sanders, is out three to seven weeks with a broken right (shooting) hand. Sanders had been on a tear, scoring a career-high 33 points against Northern Arizona on Jan. 14 and leading Idaho with 16.4 points per game. After notching 27 points in a win at Montana last week, the 6-5 sophomore guard slipped on some ice at dinner and landed on his wrist. It didn’t seem too bad, Mrktychyan said, but by the next morning, Sanders’ wrist was swollen and “it didn’t look like a hand,” his teammate says.

Mrktychan, 6-7 and 225 pounds, was born in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. When he was 6, his family moved to Moscow, where he lived for 10 years. His parents sent him and brothers Allen and Artur to the U.S. — “just to get an education and play basketball; it’s a better opportunity to play professional basketball,” he says.

Arkadiy went to live with basketball playing brother Allen at Hawaii Pacific, where he attended a private school, Academy of the Pacific, that eventually closed. The brothers moved to Vancouver, Wash.; the other brother, Artur, attends Concordia University.

Mrktychyan connected with Craig Moody, Columbia Christian High coach, and became part of a great high school team. During his senior year, he was teammates with Kameron Chatman and Isaac Bonton. They beat Jefferson, among other teams, and cruised to the Class 1A title. Chatman went on to play at Michigan, Mrktychyan at Idaho, and Bonton, now playing at Parkrose, has signed to play at the University of Portland.

“It was a great experience. Great teammates and coaches. We had a lot of fun,” Arkadiy says.

The likes of Oregon State, Washington State, Saint Mary’s and Weber State also offered him scholarships, he says, but Mrkychyan chose to play at Idaho for coach Don Verlin.

“I thought Idaho was the right place for me,” he says. “It’s the coaches and the team. We’re close. We’re the same family. And Moscow (near Pullman, Wash.) is a small town, not much to do here, keeps you on track.”

Mrktychyan doesn’t have any relatives in the U.S., except his brothers. He misses his parents but chats with his mother about every other day, via FaceTime.

Living in the United States “has helped me grow,” he says.SANDERS

Sanders was shooting .447 from the field (.430 on 3-pointers) and .854 at the free-throw line. He scored 29 points against Southern Utah on Jan. 16, two days after his 33 versus NAU.

The Vandals will play at PSU (7-10, 3-3) on Feb. 18.

“Portland State is very talented. They bring guys off the bench who are very talented,” Verlin says. “They had a tough preseason and didn’t have the record I thought they would.”

Idaho trails Montana (7-1), Weber State (5-1) and North Dakota (5-3) in the conference. All 12 teams make the Big Sky tournament.

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