Honors roll: Newman voted to AP 2A All-State Team

Riley Newman drives against a Sultan double team. Newman scored a career-high 46 points against the Turks to help end a two-game losing streak. - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Riley Newman drives against a Sultan double team. Newman scored a career-high 46 points against the Turks to help end a two-game losing streak.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

Riley Newman set his sights high for the South Whidbey Falcons boys basketball team.

A preseason coaches poll put South Whidbey in seventh place — second to last — in the Cascade Conference. He told the Falcons during the first week of practice, “This isn’t what’s going to happen, guys.”

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, then. Newman powered the Falcons to third place and the District 1 playoffs before losing consecutive games and elimination from qualifying for the state basketball tournament.

The team didn’t banter about taking pride in effort or improving. The Falcons wanted to win the conference title and play in the state tournament. Neither came to fruition, and neither did the second-to-last fate that was laid before the Falcons.

En route, Newman averaged 24.5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals over 22 games.

High school sports writers and editors from across Washington noticed Newman and voted him to the Associated Press 2A All-State Team on March 31.

“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Newman said during a telephone interview while poolside in Arizona on spring break. “My whole life I’ve been working to get up with the big boys and just trying to prove my game any way I can.”

Only five players are named to the team and five are listed as honorable mentions. Newman is the only Cascade Conference player and only one of three players from District 1 (Cascade, Northwest and Wesco conferences), along with Jackson High School and University of Oregon-bound guard Brett Kingma. Mike Wasler of Burlington-Edison was an honorable mention for the 2A team.

“I thought it was a typo,” said South Whidbey head boys coach Henry Pope. “But, I’m not surprised. I know that he deserves it. He works his butt off.”

“Congratulations to him,” Pope added. “It’s a well-deserved honor.”

Newman said he was surprised to learn of the all-state selection because the Falcons lost both playoff games.

The first playoff loss to Burlington-Edison still upsets him, he said. The Falcons led by one point at halftime before the Tigers roared back and won.

In 2010, Newman played for a select team with the King’s High School coach. It wasn’t the year-round, nationwide traveling team that Kingma and some other AAU players compete for, but it was enough to keep Newman sharp and helped him develop some new moves and better dribbling and ball-handling skills.

Pope remembered seeing Newman as a middle school kid shooting hoops on the courts around South Whidbey.

“I knew he could be special back in the seventh grade,” Pope said.

His fondest memory of Newman was as his seventh grade basketball coach. Pope said Newman scored six three-point shots in a row against the King’s team.

A timeout was called and as the team gathered, Pope felt a tug on his shirt. There was Newman, barely reaching Pope’s waist, and he asked his coach, “Hey coach, should I keep shooting?”

“We were at King’s, which is a religious school,” Pope said, “And I remember yelling out, ‘Hell, yes, keep shooting! Are you freaking crazy?’”

The all-state selection was the latest postseason honor for Newman. In February, Newman was voted as the Cascade Conference’s most valuable player — his second consecutive year as the league’s MVP.

The 6-foot-3 Falcon senior guard’s hoops career had been filled with highlights. This season’s shining moment came against Seaside at the Seaside Holiday Classic. South Whidbey won 45-32 in the championship game.

Newman said he remembered hearing Seaside students and fans taunting him. Yet he had the final laugh as he scored 23 points to defeat the host school and claim the tournament title.

Newman scored a season-high 46 points against Sultan. He also had seven rebounds and six assists. South Whidbey assistant coach Ed Baran called it the finest stat line he has ever seen.

“He is definitely a prolific scorer,” Pope said. “When he’s on, he cannot be stopped.”

That game snapped a two-game losing streak for South Whidbey. The Falcons lost at home to Archbishop Murphy and by a buzzer-beater three-pointer to Coupeville.

“Riley took it upon himself to put the team on his shoulders,” Pope said.

Five of Newman’s field goals against Sultan were three-pointers. A few were at least one foot behind the three-point arch and approached the NBA three-point distance. Newman says he has no fear about shooting well beyond the line.

“No, not at all,” Newman said.

“I like shooting the deep shots.”

Newman said he modeled his shooting after Boston Celtic and former Seattle SuperSonic Ray Allen. Allen is the NBA’s all-time best three-point shooter. Pope noticed the similarities, too.

“Just like Ray Allen, if he can catch the ball with his shoulders square to the basket,” Pope said, “and you give him a centimeter or an inch in space, it’s lights out.” Every coach in the conference knew limiting, slowing or stopping Newman was key to beating South Whidbey. Opposing teams often threw double teams at him, especially in the corners. His coach knew it, too.

“He was definitely a targeted guy,” Pope said.

Newman praised his teammates for trusting him, letting his talents shine and putting the rock in his hands for those crucial shots.

“I really couldn’t have asked for better teammates,” Newman said.

The dribble-drive became a staple of his offensive repertoire. Newman would drive from the three-point line, leap from one side of the backboard and finish a twisting up-and-under layup. His coach didn’t feign to take credit for coaching that move.

“No, that’s all Riley,” Pope said. “I didn’t coach that. Innovation: You can’t coach that stuff.”

Newman said he learned that move playing “middle school street ball.” As a shorter kid, he learned to drive and maneuver around taller, older players.

Newman’s fierce competitive spirit continues at home. After learning of his all-state nomination, he has been repeatedly reminding his sisters Lindsey and Hayley of the honor. Lindsey was an all-conference basketball player for South Whidbey and Hayley is a sophomore. He said Lindsey felt snubbed when she wasn’t on the all-state list last year.

“I’ve been bragging to my family,” Newman said. “So it’s been fun.”

Newman works to instill that same competitive nature in his 9-year-old brother, Cody. The brothers Newman play one-on-one in the back yard of their Freeland home. When asked if he goes easy on his little brother, Newman’s answer was simple.

“Nope. Not even close,” he said. “We play for bets. We play for dinner, out in the back where we play all night. Loser has to dish up spaghetti or whatever we’re eating. We always make it competitive. That’s what you have to do at a young age.”

Forty-two days have passed since the South Whidbey boys basketball team’s playoff run ended in Burlington-Edison. Newman still thinks about it and has regrets. Burlington-Edison won 81-63 after trailing by one at halftime.

Newman scored a team-leading 488 points during the season and accounted for 43 percent of the team’s scoring. He said he relished the pressure and burden of having the team rely on his scoring, and wasn’t affected by that pressure.

Later in April, Newman will visit Sonoma State in California. The Division II school is interested in Newman for basketball and tennis. Newman said playing both sports in college is a deal-breaker.

If Sonoma State doesn’t fit his aspirations, he plans on attending a community or junior college in Washington where he can play both sports.

Newman is quick to thank his home team. He praised his parents, Mike and Pam, for watching hundreds of his basketball games. He thanked his siblings, Jenny, Caitie, Lindsey, Hayley and Cody for shooting hoops with him and supporting him.

He said he hopes to have his family watch him in California, should he attend Sonoma State.

“It’s been a ride,” Newman said. “It’s been so much fun playing basketball for three different coaches in four years. It’s been a struggle to learn all the new offenses and new plays. I’m just glad that my family was there for me at all times.”

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