It will be a trial-by-fire type of year for South Whidbey boys basketball.
Six of the Falcons’ top eight players are sophomores. Head coach Mike Washington anticipates even a freshman or two will see varsity action. Senior Lewis Pope and junior Kody Newman are the only returning starters from a team that finished 9-15 overall in 2017 and went 1-3 at the class 1A Bi-District tournament.
Washington found it difficult to predict where the Falcons will stack up in the Cascade Conference this season because of the team’s inexperience.
“This is a tough question to answer as we have so many unknowns, one being youth,” Washington wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “I do feel we have talent. My goal is to get them to compete and believe.”
The Falcons will rely on Pope and Newman, the team’s starting guards, to produce points most nights. The two veterans acknowledged that while their roles as scorers will be crucial, their teammates, such as sophomores Nick Young and Carson Wrightson, will also need to step up.
“We’re a young squad, so coming into these teams with a bunch of seniors, these younger guys are going to have to step up and play bigger roles and work harder,” Newman said. “It’s definitely going to be a hard season, grinding wise.”
Pope, who recently signed his letter of intent to play at Division II Central Washington University next fall, echoed Newman’s sentiments. But, he’s also optimistic that the work the team put in with summer tournaments will help them adjust to the varsity level.
“Obviously a lot of these guys don’t have varsity experience and haven’t been throw into the fire yet,” Pope said. “…I think right now, the summer league games help because we can work out the kinks and they know what they can work on.”
Pope is a four-year varsity starter who received first team all-league recognition as a junior, having averaged 20.3 points, 4.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.
Now in his final year in blue and white, he’s been working on imparting the knowledge he’s gained over the years to the younger players.
“We’ve been playing varsity for a while, so I’m just showing them the tricks of the trade and giving them tips and encouraging them,” Pope said. “Every drill, Kody and I make sure they’re doing it right and their footwork is right. Small things like that add up.”
Washington also agreed that every player will need to contribute in order for the Falcons to be successful.
“Each of them bring a tangible to the table that will help us during a game,” Washington said. “I’m excited to coach such a young team.”
The boys basketball team strayed away from its normal schedule from years past and lined up a non-conference opponent from Australia (Flinders Christian School) as well as a weeklong trip to San Diego, Calif., to play in the Surf ‘n’ Slam tournament. Washington said they’ll even make it to Disneyland.
“The kids all worked very hard fundraising in order to make this happen,” Washington said.
“Everything that I ask of this program, parents and athletes, they support it and strive to get it done.”
“I’m extremely lucky to have such committed athletes and parents.”
Washington said the hope is to travel to San Diego every two years, and that it may draw more kids to turn out for basketball.
Newman thinks the trip to California will help the team grow closer.
“It’s going to be a good team-bonding experience going to California during Christmas break,” Newman said.
Newman and Pope’s goals for the season include reaching the playoffs and beating state powerhouse King’s; the Knights have claimed the league championship every year since 2011, including several state titles.
“It’s the only team we haven’t beaten in our conference with Washington as head coach,” Newman said.
“That’s what were mostly excited for and it’s one of the toughest games on our schedule.”