Panther boys are evolving on the court

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Aaron Diester (34) and Isaac Bischoff (50) give Washougal speed, strength and agility under the basket. The Panthers host La Center in the first game tonight. Junior varsity tips off at 5:30 p.m., followed by varsity at 7 p.m.

Washougal is no longer the land of giants. Their level of basketball is evolving.

When last season’s exceptionally tall seniors got into foul trouble, Aaron Diester, Michael McElroy and Mustapha Bah provided the Panthers with an upswing of energy and quickness. All three have worked their way into the starting lineup with 6-foot-6 senior Isaac Bischoff. This gives Washougal a lethal combination of size, speed, strength and agility.

“We have a nice balance of kids who really enjoy playing together,” said head coach Malcolm Estes. “Our motto is to get better every day. The only things we can control are our enthusiasum, our execution and our effort.”

McElroy has emerged as one of the best point guards in the league. He can steal the ball, shoot the 3-pointer and make a crisp pass to a teammate anywhere on the court.

“We want to bring the scrappiness back to Washougal,” McElroy said. “When our fans get up and yell, it forces us to get after it and pressure the ball. And, our defense transitions to our offense.”

With his ability to score baskets and grab rebounds, Diester gained more playing time during his sophomore season. The junior is looking forward to more opportunities as a full-time starter.

“We want to take that intensity from practices, carry it into our games and keep working hard,” Diester said. “The most well-conditioned teams win in the fourth quarter.”

Bah has become a defensive stalwart. In the offseason, he worked on adding a long range shot to his inside game.

“We want to take down Mark Morris and Hockinson for the first time, get to districts and then go to state,” Bah said. “It’s my last year. I don’t want to leave with any regrets.”

Bischoff loves taking the ball to the hoop, but his aggression can lead to foul trouble if he is not careful. When he doesn’t have a shot, he’ll be looking for an open man on the wing. He is confident they can hit the 3-pointer.

“The team is practicing a lot harder this year than we have any year previously,” Bischoff said. “We want people to say that we played our hardest every game, and we didn’t hold anything back.”

The attitude of these Panthers on the basketball court is changing every day. It is all part of their evolution from one-dimensional players to all-around athletes.

“Everyone seems like they want it a lot more this year,” Bah said.

“We’re hungry,” McElroy added.

“Very hungry,” Diester continued. “Not just one person wants the ball, everybody wants the ball and to make something happen.”