South Whidbey senior Lewis Pope doesn’t play for himself on the court.
It goes against the grain of how he was raised.
He embraces his role as the Falcons’ most dependable scorer, but he won’t hesitate to pass the ball to a teammate. On defense, he’d rather keep his opponent scoreless than lead his team in points and lose.
This unselfish demeanor is one of the fundamentals his late father Henry Pope, who died in 2013, taught him from a young age. The list goes on: be a good teammate, create scoring opportunities for other players, work hard on defense and take a shot only if it’s open and pass if it’s not.
“He showed me how to play the right way,” Pope said.
Pope eclipsed 1,000 career points during a 65-50 win over King’s on Jan. 9, a milestone that few other players in the program’s history have achieved. He likes to think his dad helped him drain some of those buckets.
“During the game I’ll stay focused,” Pope said. “But, after a game (when I am thinking about) a couple shots that I wasn’t sure about, sometimes I’ll think he’s watching me and helping me out.”
Pope’s performances this season make him a standout in the Cascade Conference. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 24.2 points a game and has scored 40 or more points in two of the Falcons’ past five games. Pope was also runner-up to former King’s standout Corey Kispert, who now plays for Gonzaga University, in the league’s most valuable player voting last season.
The Central Washington University commit is considered to be the heart and soul of South Whidbey’s team. Head coach Mike Washington, whose first year with the Falcons was also Pope’s freshman season, believes he’ll go down as one of the greats to ever play for South Whidbey.
The praise means a lot to Pope, who acknowledges that it was earned through sacrifice, commitment and discipline. It’s an everyday grind for him, either shooting hoops in the gym or playing on select teams. Knowing he’d hardly ever be sitting on the bench, Pope ran several miles a day on the track or in wooded trails in the offseason to ensure his legs wouldn’t give out during games.
“If you’re tired and your legs are tired, that can really do something to defense and you’re shooting,” Pope said. “That was a big focus.”
Personal achievements are not how Pope wants to be remembered. He has high hopes for the Falcons (14-4 overall, 8-1 Cascade Conference) with just two games left in the regular season.
“Honestly, I’d rather just have a plaque up there saying, ‘state champions,’” Pope said. “Because I feel like that will resonate longer than saying, ‘Oh, he was one of the best players out of the school.’”
Pope isn’t one to reflect on personal accomplishments. His teammates have noticed this too. Even after he scored 41 points against Archbishop Murphy on Jan. 9, he brushed aside high praises from kids at school and instead credited his teammates.
“He’s always willing to spread that out to his teammates, and I think that makes us respect him a lot more,” said sophomore Levi Buck.
Teresa Pope, his mother, said Pope’s humility comes from his father, who was a forward for the University of Washington and coached the Falcon girls and boys basketball teams. She also thinks it stems from the hardships Lewis has endured.
Teresa Pope suffered a brain aneurysm when he was 4. He was 13 when his father died.
“He’s had to go through a lot more than a lot of kids ever have to,” Teresa Pope said. “Thank God I’m here. But, that’s pretty traumatic. That has all shaped who he is.”
She’s proud of the resilience he’s shown despite the loss, as well as his knack for being a bookworm; he currently holds a 3.9 grade point average and is a National Honor Society member.
Pope has smarts on the court, too, according to Washington.
“As a player, he has an extremely high basketball IQ,” Washington said. “During games he suggests different ideas to help the team be successful.”
Pope has always wanted to make the people around him proud, whether it be his family, his coaches or his teammates. He thinks about his father everyday and hopes he’s proud of his work ethic.
“Every time I’m tired or I’m at the gym by myself and I just don’t want to do another rep, I just know he’s watching me and helps me go a little harder,” Pope said.
Pope will be honored as one of the Falcons’ two seniors in their final regular season home game of the year against Granite Falls at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The other is Ryan Wenzek.
Pope’s dad — as well as the many others he plays for — won’t be far from his mind.
An earlier version of this story did not include Ryan Wenzek as the other senior on the team.