South Whidbey senior Lewis Pope has a knack for making the players around him better.
His play, work ethic and demeanor inspired his teammates to perform at a higher level. The domino effect that followed was one of the major factors in how the Falcons’ boys basketball rose above private schools in the Cascade Conference to win their first league championship in 29 years.
Pope’s performance and impact on his team didn’t go unnoticed by coaches in the league. He was recently named co-MVP of the Cascade Conference alongside Cedar Park Christian senior George Reidy.
Pope, who averaged 23.8 points per game during the regular season, also made the 1A All-State and Skagit Valley Herald All-Stars teams and was named the Snohomish County Basketball Officials’ boys player of the year.
He’ll represent South Whidbey in the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association (WIBCA) All-State game against class 2A on Saturday, March 17 at Curtis High School.
“I’m very happy for Lewis to close out his high school career like that,” head coach Mike Washington said.
The accolades don’t end with Pope – they extend to his teammates and coach.
Washington was voted coach of the year in the Cascade Conference. Junior Kody Newman made first-team all-conference and will join Pope in the Skagit County All-Star game on Wednesday, March 28. Sophomore forward Carson Wrightson was honorable mention in the league.
On paper, South Whidbey could have been considered an underdog all season. Pope and Newman were the only two upperclassmen in the starting lineup. The rest were sophomores with little to no varsity experience.
The Falcons charged through the Cascade Conference anyway. They ended King’s streak of five consecutive conference championships and nudged out Archbishop Murphy to become the first public school in more than a decade to win the league outright.
At the center of it all was Pope, who eclipsed 1,000 points scored in his career during the regular season. He had 40 or more points in two games and was five points away from breaking Riley Newman’s school record for most points scored in a game – 46 – when he finished with 41 in a 72-54 win over Archbishop Murphy on Jan. 17.
Washington remembers the game well. Pope scored 18 points on six consecutive three-pointers in the third quarter.
“He was having fun,” Washington said. “That was an amazing performance that night.”
The victory helped the Falcons inch closer to securing the league title, which they eventually clinched with a win over Granite Falls on Jan. 31. The Falcons, however, were eliminated by Nooksack Valley and King’s in the 1A District 1 tournament. South Whidbey finished 16-7 overall and 10-2 in league.
Throughout the season, the Falcon’s opponents knew that to beat the Falcons they would need to stop Pope and hope the rest of the team fell flat.
That’s where Newman came in.
The 6-foot-1 guard helped keep their opponents on their toes and averaged 17.1 points per game in the regular season. Newman knew that if he could produce points when Pope was double- or triple-teamed and also help distribute the ball to other scorers on the team, the Falcons would be successful.
Newman accomplished a personal goal by making first-team all-conference.
“I think my main, key role was a good, trustworthy secondary scorer,” Newman said. “I think it became big when Lewis was double- or triple-teamed and it would leave me or someone else open to make that big shot or the big pass.”
Newman’s athletic relationship with Pope traces back to when the two played t-ball together. He said he’s “beyond proud” for Pope to be recognized.
“He’s pretty much like a brother to me,” Newman said. “…It feels so good knowing that other people are taking notice of him.”
Newman also added that Pope and Washington earned every bit of the recognition they’ve received. While Pope is in the gym constantly working on his craft, Newman considered Washington to be equally as hard working.
“There’s so many things that parents and other teams don’t realize that Mike does,” Newman said. “…He’s always focused about his players. It’s really awesome for him to finally get that. He works extremely hard 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Washington is also proud about being named the league’s top coach and hopes the team’s conference title will be talked about 20 or 30 years down the road, much like John Knaplund’s team is remembered for placing twice at the state championships.
“It’s a cool honor,” Washington said. “But you know what the coolest thing is? To be part of the championship. That’s the coolest thing.”
“I can always think in my mind, ‘We are champions,’” he added.