Stuttgart’s Ismael Anglada Paz takes it to the basket against Ramstein’s Aarius Guishard in the boys Division I final at the DODEA-Europe basketball championships in Wiesbaden, Germany, Feb. 17, 2024. Stuttgart took the title with a 47-36 win.

Stuttgart’s Ismael Anglada Paz takes it to the basket against Ramstein’s Aarius Guishard in the boys Division I final at the DODEA-Europe basketball championships in Wiesbaden, Germany, Feb. 17, 2024. Stuttgart took the title with a 47-36 win. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

Ismael Anglada Paz may not recall his name, but what his freshman-year coach told him is etched in his mind forever.

The now Stuttgart senior was a student at Indian River High School in Philadelphia, N.Y., 9 miles north of Fort Drum. His former coach described Anglada Paz’s defense as “garbage.”

To steal a phrase from one of the best to play the game, Anglada Paz took that personally.

“He told me that to my face, and I’ll never forget that,” Anglada Paz said. “So, I worked on my defense, in practice we work on defense and I take a lot of pride on defense.

“Thanks for that, coach.”

His current coach, Christopher Jackson, and the rest of the Panthers also are thankful for that motivational comment, which came just months before Anglada Paz moved to Stuttgart in April 2021.

Jackson called Stars and Stripes’ 2023-2024 boys basketball Athlete of the Year the centerpiece of an almost impenetrable defensive wall. The Panthers allowed less than 27 points per game throughout the season and less than 24 during the European championships in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Opponents hit the 40-point mark just four times against Stuttgart – Ramstein twice on Dec. 8 (40) and Dec. 9 (43), Vilseck on Jan. 26 (44) and SHAPE on Feb. 3 (40). That’s fewer times than the Panthers held an opponent to fewer than 20 points (five).

Stuttgart managed that defensive success despite a sizeable height disadvantage against most opponents. The team’s starting five had three players under 6 feet tall, going with Anglada Paz (5 feet, 10 inches), Tyler Jackson (5-10), Ryan Stevenson (5-7), Jacob Schudel (6-2) and Chris Hess (6-1).

So, “Ish,” as called by those close to him, often had to cover guys taller than him. And the Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native handled the challenge well, as shown against SHAPE’s star Bela Clobes by helping to hold the 6-5 senior to single digits in a 56-17 win on Feb. 2.

“Ismael is one of the top three on-the-ball defenders I’ve ever coached in my 20-plus years of coaching,” Christopher Jackson said. “The kid can be 5-5 or the kid can be 6-4, and I know Ismael will keep him in front of him. Like he’s going to have to work for every bucket.”

Anglada Paz and the defense took the Panthers to new heights from even the previous season, when they won the program’s first DODEA European title in a decade.

The 2023-2024 squad repeated as champions, not losing a single game en route to an 18-0 campaign.

While the Panthers brought back most of the core from the previous year, they still lost the tournament MVP in Trenton Jackson and the leading rebounder in Josh Zipperer. Anglada Paz and his teammates heard people say this year’s squad would not be as good, and they went out to prove the doubters wrong by dominating almost every opponent.

“Basketball really is a simple game,” Anglada Paz said. “It’s really about five people on a team that come together, put the pieces together, and I feel like we did that this year.”

For all the defensive prowess, Jackson hailed Anglada Paz’s offensive abilities, even in a balanced team with plenty of options.

The Stuttgart coach said he gave the senior free rein to do what he pleased on offense – as long as he didn’t try to take on three defenders himself. And Anglada Paz learned to play within that system, dishing out to the hot hand if Schudel, Tyler Jackson or any other teammate were scoring at will.

He also took over games. Christopher Jackson said Anglada Paz posted numerous 16-point quarters and once didn’t score until the second half before rolling off 12 consecutive points.

One of the more impressive performances, according to his coach, came in the 51-43 win over the Royals on Dec. 9. In that game, Jackson said Ramstein couldn’t stop the 2024 Division I European tournament MVP, whether it was from beyond the arc, a floater in the lane or driving and dishing out to his teammates.

Another stand-out game came right after the season ended in the all-star contest at Vilseck, Germany, on Feb. 24. Anglada Paz amassed a game-high 32 for Team Piggé, which won 101-83 over Team Jackson.

Anglada Paz ended the season averaging 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and about four assists per game.

“If you don’t know basketball, it would be hard for you to see it. If you know basketball, it would be obvious who the most talented player on the court was,” Jackson said. “If Ismael was on any other team but mine, he would have averaged 30 a game with no problem.”

The Stuttgart senior said he has garnered attention from college coaches and is weighing his options.

Before that, though, he looks back at the journey in Stuttgart fondly, pointing out how far the program had come from when he came off the bench his sophomore year.

“People have been treating me so well,” Anglada Paz said. “Coach has treated me like his family. All around, I love Stuttgart. The friendships have been amazing, the team, I love it. I’m grateful.”

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Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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