Coming off its first conference championship in 29 years, the South Whidbey High School boys basketball team is looking for an encore.
As the Falcons pursue another title, they will find out what life is like without Lewis Pope and his 20-plus points per game.
Pope, now playing for Central Washington University, was a four-year letterman, prolific scorer, all-state selection and co-MVP of the Cascade Conference.
“The team is having to learn to play without Lewis, and I am having to learn to coach without Lewis,” said Mike Washington, the league’s Coach of the Year for 2017-18.
Pope is gone but South Whidbey is not devoid of talent.
Returning is senior guard Kody Newman, who averaged 17 points per game last year and earned first-team, all-league honors.
Also back are five other letter winners, all juniors: guards Dex Jokinen and Nick Young and forwards Levi Buck, Carson Wrightson and Kole Nelson. Each started at least one game last year and Wrightson was an all-league honorable mention choice.
Other expected to provide minutes, according to Washington, are senior Brock Gray, junior Wyatt De Mers and sophomore Sterling Patton.
The team’s strengths, Washington said, are its ability to shoot the three “when playing within the team concept” and “good inside play.”
The Falcons’ 13-man varsity roster lists only two players shorter than six feet and includes 6-6 Buck and Wrightson and 6-4 Nelson.
Washington’s biggest concern is the lack of depth on his young team, which includes only two seniors.
Areas of emphasis, he added, are “playing at our pace, being very deliberate on both ends of the floor, rebounding and playing together.”
In fact, “playing together,” is one of Washington’s goals for his team, along with being “in position to win games down the stretch.”
Winning the school’s first championship in nearly 30 years is both a blessing and a curse, according to Washington.
The title will “always be a part” of those who played last year, and this year’s team “knows how hard it was to win the league”; however, “we went from being the hunter to being the hunted.”
The Falcons (16-7 last year) begin this season at home when Meridian (6-14) visits at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27.