AJ LaBree admits he had no idea where Washougal was when he moved from Sehome two years ago.
Today, the high school embraces him as its new head boys basketball coach.
“I love the community and I love the people here,” LaBree said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a head coach again this year, but the right job opened up and all the puzzle pieces came together. I got a teaching job here and an opportunity to coach. It all fit.”
LaBree, 42, teaches special education. He also brings 14 years of experience coaching basketball to Washougal. The Sehome Mariners went 121-77 during his eight years as the head coach, and finished in fourth place at the 2A state tournament in 2015.
“We had our battles with Mark Morris,” LaBree said. He is well aware of one of the Panthers’ arch rivals.
“I had a lot of fun at Sehome. I loved it there,” he added. “Those kids were a big part of my life, and to some degree, still are.”
A teaching position at Union High School, in Vancouver, brought LaBree down the I-5 corridor. Blake Conley, the head boys basketball coach at Union, was looking for an assistant. LaBree and Conley coached together at Sehome before, so it was a perfect fit.
After two seasons of coaching at the highest classification in the state, LeBree looks forward to molding young Panthers into men at Washougal.
“Winning is fun. Ultimately, that’s the goal, but that’s not all there is to it,” he said. “In basketball, you learn how to work with other people. In life, you’re going to have coworkers, you’re going to have teammates and people that you have to get along with.
“The best example of a basketball player I love is somebody who’s willing to sacrifice for his brother out there on the court,” LaBree added. “To give up the good shot for the great shot.”
His goal is to build a positive basketball culture from the youth program all the way up through the high school program. It starts with the upcoming seniors and juniors taking the sophomores and the incoming freshmen under their paws.
“The older kids are kind of the parents of the program, and we want that to trickle down to the younger guys just what a positive and valuable tool basketball can be,” LaBree said. “The youth teams and the middle schools in Washougal, they feed into the high school program. We would love to see them all out at our basketball games.”
LaBree thanks the athletes for showing up to practice in big numbers, listening to a new coach and absorbing everything he is trying to teach them.
“It’s been a great week, but it’s only been one week,” LaBree said. “If these kids come out and they leave it all on the floor, whether they win or lose, they are going to achieve success, and they are going to find out that this is fun.”