That revelation also left Union coach Blake Conley and his assistants a lot to work with. They envisioned him playing on the wing, bringing the ball up the court as the point and even coming off of ball screens, in addition to everything else he already brought to the team on offense and as the key cog in the Titans’ zone defense.
Everything they threw at Fassilis, The Columbian’s All-Region boys basketball player of the year, the senior took and ran with. In 25 games this season, Fassilis averaged nearly 25 points, set new program records in steals (91) and deflections (130) while leading the Titans to an eighth consecutive state tournament appearance.
“He loves to play basketball, so I was never worried about him not working on the skills,” Conley said. “But it was amazing with him just 100 percent dedicating change to his body, how he moved … and how it changed his game completely.”
Conley hadn’t seen Fassilis for some time after Union’s summer season wrapped up at the end of June. Upon returning to Union at the start of the new school year, Conley ran into head football coach Rory Rosenbach, who joked, “are you worried about how skinny Yanni is getting?”
The next time Conley saw Fassilis, he looked drastically different from just a couple months prior. He also recognized how hard Fassilis was working in the weight room by himself and through the team’s strength training program.
“Obviously he’s so strong, and the thing I was impressed with, he never lost his strength,” Conley said. “He lost a lot of weight; he didn’t lose any strength. In fact, he became more explosive as an athlete.”
“I never wanted to lose too much weight,” Fassilis added. “I’m a big guy and I always wanted to stay bigger. I thought being one of the stronger guys on the court was always one of my biggest strengths.”
Fassilis’ added versatility gave Union plenty of new looks offensively. The part that sometimes went overlooked, though, is the massive impact Fassilis had on the Titans’ defense.
His transfer to Union from 2A Washougal ahead of the 2021-22 season coincided with the Titans switching from a man-to-man to 2-3 zone defense. Fassilis had a knack for reading passes, being quick to the ball with tremendously fast hand speed. With him in the middle of Union’s zone, the fit was seamless.
This season in year two, it was as if Union had four of Fassilis on the floor, Conley said.
“I think as good as he was on offense, he was better on defense,” Conley said. “There was not a defensive player who meant more to his team in the last two years than Yanni with that zone. He made it look really good. He covered up for a lot of mistakes that other people made, and when he made a mistake it was very obvious because people would score. He was just the heart and soul of that defense. It was really cool to see us try something new and then it happened to (coincide with) Yanni’s first year, this perfect match of us running this zone and then Yanni being the absolute perfect player for this zone.”
Union had a bumpy first month of the season and found itself at the bottom of the 4A Greater St. Helens League standings after losses to Battle Ground and Camas.
The latter loss on Jan. 3 proved to be the team’s last for nearly two months.
Union reeled off 12 straight wins, including four in the postseason, to reach the Class 4A state round of 12 at the Tacoma Dome. The Titans’ season ended there in a loss to Richland.
That turnaround, Fassilis said, showed the team’s unity and ability to fight. It’s what he was most proud of this season.
“In the beginning of the year we started pretty downhill, and a lot of people didn’t think we had it in us,” he said. “Maybe even some guys on the team didn’t think we had it in us. But the coaches believed in us and we believed in the program, the system and we just kept working at it.”
One of the main reasons behind Fassilis’ offseason transformation was to become a better fit for prospective college basketball programs. He and Conley, who announced earlier this week he’s stepping down as Union’s head coach, continue to stay in contact with multiple college coaches. For now, Fassilis said he’s keeping all of his options open.
Whether or not Fassilis continues playing basketball, he left a legacy in two years at Union with his all-around play and an exuberant style that rubbed off on teammates.
“When Yanni was at his best, it was noticeable for everybody else,” Conley said. “It was contagious for sure.”
Rest of the All-Region First Team
Beckett Currie, Camas
Sophomore guard averaged 23 points a game for the 4A GSHL champion, including 44 points vs. Silas of Tacoma. Currie set multiple program records including most points in a season (575).
Kobe Parlin, Mark Morris
Senior and 2A Greater St. Helens League co-player of the year averaged 23 points a game for the state runner-up Monarchs and concluded his prep career as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Isaiah Vargas, Mountain View
Senior was the 3A Greater St. Helens League player of the year, averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game. Vargas helped lead the Thunder to a share of the league title and the program’s first state tournament appearance since 2012.
Cavin Holden, R.A. Long
Senior and 2A Greater St. Helens League co-player of the year averaged 34 points a game for the 2A district champions.
Tait Spencer, Battle Ground
Junior averaged nearly 36 points a game in helping the Tigers advance to the 4A bi-district tournament.
All-Region Second Team
Demaree Collins, Skyview
The junior and 3-point specialist was a first-team 4A Greater St. Helens League selection for the Storm. Collins averaged 24 points per game and made a program record 77 3-pointers during the season.
Jack Jenniges, Seton Catholic
Senior post and first-team Trico League selection was pivotal down the stretch, leading the Cougars to a 1A state berth while averaging 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game.
Braydon Olson, Mark Morris
Senior was part of 1-2 punch for the Monarchs, who captured the 2A GSHL title and placed second at state.
Giovanny Evanson, King’s Way Christian
Senior led the Knights to a 1A district championship and state appearance while earning a third consecutive Trico League player-of-the-year honor.
Theo McMillan, Camas
Senior was an all-around standout for the Papermakers, especially at the Tacoma Dome, helping Camas earn sixth place, its best finish at state. McMillan was part of 49 Camas wins in his varsity career, the most in program history.
Payton Stewart, Kelso
Junior and a 3A Greater St. Helens League first-team selection helped the Hilanders to a share of the league title and 3A bi-district tournament berth.