After missing the playoffs last season, the Washougal High School boys basketball team is ready for a fresh start.
New head coach AJ LaBree brings a wealth of energy and knowledge about the game. He coached in Bellingham for 14 years, leading that team to fourth place at state in 2015. LaBree then served as an assistant coach at Union High School before getting the opportunity to lead a program again at Washougal.
Every day, LaBree and his fellow coaches encourage the Panthers to shock the system.
“We say brothers after every game, before every game and after every practice,” LaBree said. “I think these guys have really bought into and believe that we can turn things around here and get some ‘W’s'”
So far, the Panthers seem to be listening. On Dec. 1, Washougal fought back from five points down in the fourth quarter to defeat King’s Way 73-72. Three nights later, the Panthers found themselves trailing by 15 points to St. Frances de Sales High School, of Melbourne, Australia. Once again, they rallied, finished the game on a 13-0 run and won by 10.
“It was good to be down like that at halftime and be able to come back,” said senior forward Moses McEwen.
“At the end, we all pulled through and just played well together,” added senior forward Carson Adams.
LaBree has a strong core of seniors to work with in Adams, McEwen, Ryan Bausch, Kade Coons, Tanner Coltrane, Ben Gutkind and Nick Oakes. He also likes what he sees in juniors Troy Prince-Butterfield, Carter Murray, Kol Mael, Alex Orr and John Miner.
McEwen stands 6-foot-5. He has been a steady scorer for Washougal, and can also rebound, steal and block the ball.
“Moses has been really clutch for us, so far,” LaBree said. “I don’t think a lot of people know about him. It’s going to be fun to see what he can do this season.”
Orr delivered 22 points against King’s Way. He also had some big baskets and steals in the comeback against the Australians.
“He’s fearless and he wants the ball in his hands,” LaBree said. “He kind of keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
Adams, Bausch and Coons have been fearless rebounders for the Panthers. Mael and Murray hit clutch threes in each game. Prince-Butterfield also made the winning foul shot against King’s Way with one second left on the clock.
“If we can string a few wins together, I don’t see who in our league can really slow us down,” Prince-Butterfield said.
“It’s nice when one guy scores 20 points, but when you have four or more guys scoring eight, it’s going to be hard to stop us,” Adams said.
The first goal for Washougal is to get back to the playoffs. If the Panthers can get there, and play their best basketball when it counts, they have a shot at achieving their dream of going to state. And that would shock the system.