After going all the way to the district tournament last season, the Washougal boys basketball players seem hungry to improve on what they started.
Several starters from last season have since graduated, but the team has plenty of quick players and an experienced core group of boys who say they are ready to run.
“On defense, we are working hard on quickness and moving feet so we don’t get beat,” senior Carter Murray, the Panthers’ point guard and leading scorer, said.
Head basketball coach A.J. LaBree, now in his second year coaching the Washougal boys team, said Carter has done a great job of getting into shape during the off-season and he is excited about the senior’s positive attitude and natural leadership abilities.
“Carter can lead us at point guard, but he’s also a great shooter and will spend plenty of time in the No. 2 spot as well,” LaBree said.
Carter said what the team lacks in size it more than makes up for with quickness, intensity and 3-point shooting.
“We’re faster and shoot the ball better than most teams,” Murray said. “We hope to make a lot of offense from our press and we’ll be looking for ‘3s.'”
Football injuries carry over to basketball
The team has plenty of young talent this year, including Jakob Davis, who started last year as a sophomore.
One of the top receivers in the league prior to his season-ending injury in the fall, Davis is still recovering from that strained knee injury. During the first week of basketball practice, Davis wore a knee brace, but still participated in team drills.
“I kind of hyperextended it a couple of times in practice and it wasn’t a good feeling so I’m trying not to go quite as hard right now,” Davis said.
A football injury also affected junior Julien Jones, who broke his collarbone in a game against Mark Morris this year. He’s expected to be back in practice on Dec. 5.
Last season, a football injury kept junior guard Brevan Bea off the basketball court all season, but he said he is healthy and excited to play this year.
“I’m feeling pretty great. I’m glad to have made it through the football season without getting hurt,” Bea said.
LaBree said football has taken a toll on his basketball team, but he still encourages his players to try other sports.
“You’re only young once. Look at Jakob — he’s a great football player, so maybe it’s in his future? I can’t worry about it. The doctors will tell me when everyone is good to play,” LaBree said.
Coach helps Washougal become ‘basketball town’
The second-year coach brings an impressive resume to the Washougal basketball program.
He was the junior varsity boys basketball coach at Union High School for two seasons and, prior to Union, was the head boys varsity basketball coach at Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington, for eight years.
LaBree said building a basketball dynasty requires a special community and he believes Washougal really wants to be a basketball town. The coach immediately launched several youth basketball programs in the community soon after he took the head coaching job in 2017.
LaBree said he believes the success of his current team will help drive the new feeder programs, which are exposing youth to Washougal basketball at much earlier ages than ever before.
“What I love about Washougal is that it’s a one-high-school town and the community is super supportive of their high school and hungry to be good in sports,” LaBree said.
The coach’s goal is to have select basketball teams for every grade, from elementary through middle school.
“It’s just a matter of getting kids exposed to basketball early, and it’s working because we had 60 kids turn out for a basketball youth camp this summer,” LaBree said.
The Panthers opened their season on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at home, with a 58-39 victory over Stevenson High.