Washougal’s basketball culture is attracting new fans to the stands following a remarkable metamorphosis within Washougal High School’s hoops programs.
The change started with the girls team winning the school’s first basketball state championship in 2019. Less than one year later, the Panthers’ boys program, which has struggled for decades, is heating up thanks to a solid group of seniors and a rare freshman talent.
Ninth-grader Yanni Fassilis is the team’s second-leading scorer, right behind senior Jakob Davis, who is having a great senior season after missing his junior season with a knee injury.
“(Fassilis) is a true talent and plays like a vet out there,” Davis said.
“He eats, lives and sleeps basketball. He loves it,” Panthers coach AJ LaBree said about Fassilis. “The reason he is as good as he is is that he puts in so much time in, and obviously he’s got some physical ability. You take last year’s core and add in two high-level players, and we are a completely different team because Davis and Fassilis are both 6-foot-3 power forwards who can handle the ball.”
Freshman starter moved from Camas to Washougal
Freshmen starters aren’t common in Washougal. Beyonce Bea, last season’s 2A player of the year — who now plays for the University of Idaho women’s basketball team — is the only other example Panthers coaches could come up with.
An unexpected coincidence led LaBree to Fassilis. Two years ago, Fassilis’ family moved from Camas into the cul-de-sac where LaBree and his family live. As you might expect, the Panthers coach immediately noticed the big kid shooting baskets in front of his house.
“I see him out there in the cul-de-sac, and I’m like, ‘Who is this guy?'” LaBree said. “His parents explained he was in seventh grade and all he does is play basketball. I told them, ‘We need to keep him around.'”
Fassilis has played competitively in 3-on-3 tournaments around the Pacific Northwest since he was in elementary school, winning some big events along the way, including Spokane’s “Hoopfest,” a 30-year-old event that has become the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the United States.
Fassilis’ freewheeling “street-baller” style has not only caught the attention of coaches and players, but fans who are growing in number and loudly cheer his name during home games.
“The seniors I play with are good leaders and help me adjust real quick,” Fassilis said after scoring 21 points in Washougal’s 67-35 victory over Woodland on Jan. 8. “If I’m hot, they give me the ball, and if they are hot, I make sure and give it (the ball) to them.”
Preparation requires more than just knowing your teammates on the court, according to Davis, who is following the advice of a player he knows with state tournament experience.
“He told me how everyone on the team knew everyone like the back of their hand, and it helped them know where they were on the court at all times,” Davis said. “That’s what we are striving for.”
Most of the team members already has it because they’ve bonded through sports since they were in elementary school. Senior starters Brevan Bea, Julien Jones and Davis can practically finish each other’s sentences, and fish together on the Washougal River any chance they get. They were all core members of the Washougal football team that advanced to the 2A state quarterfinal round in November.
The seniors didn’t waste any time developing a strong friendship with Fassilis.
“We are all really close,” Davis said. “Even though he’s a freshman, he’s out with us on the weekends all the time now.”
“My favorite thing about playing basketball is being with my brothers and playing with my friends,” Fassilis added.
Columbia River ends Panthers’ winning streak
The Panthers surprised the entire 2A Greater St. Helens League with an impressive 4-0 start, but last season’s league champion from Columbia River ended the Panthers’ winning streak on Jan. 17 with a 56-43 win.
During the first half, the game remained close thanks to 11 points from Fassilis. However, the Chieftains’ Nate Snook, the reigning league most valuable player, took control in the second half, breaking down Washougal’s defense, scoring 19 points.
LaBree said his team struggled to score and added that it was unable to practice for several days because of snow that closed school in Washougal.
“We had our scouting a couple of days ago (for Columbia River) and then we were told to stop practicing and go home and not practice the next day either,” he said. “But we learned a lot from this game, and will be better prepared for them next time.”
The Panthers (8-4 overall, 4-1 league) sit in second place behind Columbia River. The two teams will face each other again in Washougal on Feb. 7 in the second-to-last game of the regular season.