Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Megan Bishop (12) drives to the hoop against Kearn's Megan Henderson during their first-round game in the 5A state tourney.

OREM — This Timberwolf is a real cat lover.

Though Megan Bishop is happy to be playing basketball for the Timpanogos Timberwolves now, she sees wildcats in her future. And her feisty attitude and hard work are just the things that could land her with the wildlife research job she longs to get.

"I like big cats, like lions and tigers," said the No. 2 guard for the fast-paced Timberwolf basketball team. "I just think it would be really cool to work at a wildlife reserve center for big cats."

She understands those dreams might take her far away from Utah but doesn't really mind since she'd also like to escape the cold and move somewhere with a little heat all year round.

But for now she's focused on helping her young and inconsistent team to the 5A playoffs in a sport she's played her entire life. In the spring she'll take her act to the softball diamond and ply her trade in center field.

"She's a great kid. She can mix with any group of people. She's confident and competent," said her basketball coach, Liz Darger, who has been coaching the emotionally charged Bishop since the start of the latter's freshman year.

Darger remembers her from tryouts at the junior high and thinking that Bishop was an athlete who picked things up quickly. Bishop tends to agree with the assessment, as she's been a bit of tomboy who's hung out with her male cousins playing sports since she could walk.

It all started with volleyball, the sport her father's family excels in at all different levels. Though she played a lot when she was younger, she decided fairly early on it just wasn't her sport.

"I played with my older cousins, who got mad at me when I'd mess up," so Bishop.

She instead focused on softball and basketball, which she's been playing in an organized fashion since turning 10.

During her junior year in basketball, Bishop found herself playing the two-guard and doing a solid job but only averaging about three points per game. During practice Darger discovered one of the top players on the team wasn't going to be able to play in the next game and made a challenge to Bishop.

"I told her, 'You are the one that needs to step up and score,'" said Darger, adding that Bishop had 15 in the next game and has been averaging double digits ever since.

"That was her breakout game. I challenged her, and she stepped up to that challenge."

Added Bishop: "She told me I had to step up in that game, and it just stuck."

Though Bishop has a fiery and charismatic personality and considers herself a tomboy who does "guy stuff," she didn't like the role in which she was initially cast as a freshman on the junior high basketball team.

"I was a point guard, and I didn't like it. I didn't like the pressure of running things all the time. I just wanted to shoot, so I shot a lot after practice," said Bishop, who used to put up 50-100 3-pointers after practice every day and has since become a long-distance threat that other teams must acknowledge.

Since then, she's worked on several parts of her game and has added a great move to the hoop, some intense defense, and just this year, a pull-up jumper that she's worked on a lot to get it just right.

She's such a team leader that "when she's up, the team's up," said Darger, who added, "she can be such a riot to be around. She has a dominant personality. She smiles and laughs and makes you laugh, and she just brings people into the mix."

But its not just leadership that Bishop brings to the table — the senior guard also has an innate ability to take care of things during important moments.

Against Timpview earlier this season, Bishop suffered a knee injury in the first half and was relegated to the bench afterward.

"She was in a lot of pain," remembered Darger.

But when her teammate fouled out, Darger asked Bishop if there was any way she could go into the game. Bishop gathered herself and went out onto the court.

"She was in so much pain, but she went right out there and hit a huge 3 to tie it," said Darger, adding, "That's just the type of player she is. She's clutch."

And basketball is just her second sport — she'd truly love to move on and play softball in college. Several out-of-state colleges and universities are recruiting her, but she isn't quite sure of her intentions just yet.

The center fielder says she loves being in the outfield and catching fly balls, but she doesn't mind a little thievery in using her speed to steal bases.

The Timberwolf softball squad has been one of the top teams in Utah County and the state for several years, but her main reason for loving softball is the summer sun.

"I hate cold. I love being outside in the summer sun."

Bishop doesn't limit herself to team sports, as wake boarding and skateboarding are among her many hobbies. She delves into her artistic side with her drawings and paintings.

With her high school days filled with multiple sports, studies and art classes, Bishop's hankering for wildlife has her looking to roar into the realms of big cats after her career as a Timberwolf comes to a close.

E-mail: jolsen@desnews.com