High School Basketball

Passion he couldn’t find at Boeing he discovered coaching high school basketball

Lynden boys’ basketball coach Brian Roper pumps a fist during a 2012 game against Lynden Christian. Roper will be entering the WIBCA Hall of Fame during a ceremony Thursday, July 28, at the Ferndale Events Center.
Lynden boys’ basketball coach Brian Roper pumps a fist during a 2012 game against Lynden Christian. Roper will be entering the WIBCA Hall of Fame during a ceremony Thursday, July 28, at the Ferndale Events Center. The Bellingham Herald

It wasn’t long after graduating from Seattle Pacific University with an English degree in 1984 that Brian Roper found himself working away in a big building at the Boeing plant in Everett on a bright, sunny July day.

He called his college buddy Mike McKee, who told Roper of his plans to go enjoy the sun and play a little basketball with Ed Bomber that afternoon.

“I hung up the phone and immediately called UW to see if I could get in their education program,” Roper said. “I saw those two guys had passion for something in their lives, and I realized I wasn’t going to have the same passion for airplanes. I knew I wanted to work with kids in some way, and I figured if I could combine my love for basketball and work with kids, I’d be happy at work.”

After 23 years as a high school varsity boys basketball coach, Roper, who has spent the past 11 seasons at Lynden after coaching six years each at North Mason and Sequim, has no regrets about the move he decided to make that day.

23 Seasons coaching, including the past 11 at Lynden

381 Career coaching victories

.687 Career winning percentage (381-174)

11 State tournament appearances by his teams

9 State trophies won by his teams

2 State championships won by his teams

It would be hard to argue with the results, either, as he will be inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame along with close friends and colleagues Roger DeBoer of Lynden Christian and Dave Dickson of Squalicum at a westside banquet Thursday, July 28, at the Ferndale Events Center.

Unlike DeBoer and Dickson, Roper is not the most demonstrative coach on game day. In fact, he’s quite the opposite.

Think calm, cool, collected – kind of like former NBA coach Phil Jackson.

“He’s super low-key,” said former Lynden player Josh Kraght, who was a junior on the team Roper guided to the 2012 Class 2A state title. “I played four years for him during league and summer ball, and I think I only heard him raise his voice once or twice. You knew he was really mad.”

I will say that while instructions and strategies and work ethic are important, nothing is more important than your relationships with students and players. ... Kids want to know you care about them, that you want what’s best for them.

Brian Roper, Lynden boys basketball coach

McKee, who’s now the athletic director at Lynden and has served as an assistant coach on Roper’s staff for a couple seasons, said don’t let the quiet demeanor fool you, though.

“Some people think he’s not passionate because he doesn’t get worked up or upset at the refs or how the game’s going,” McKee said, “but it’s not that way. He’s one of the most passionate guys I’ve ever met – the fire just burns beneath the surface. ... You hear that old adage that kids mean more than wins. Well, Brian likes to win a lot – he just likes kids more.”

And what Roper truly loves is teaching kids, whether it is in a classroom or on a basketball court.

As a player, you want a consistent coach – whether that’s fired up all the time or low-key, like Rope. You rely on that, and Rope does a great job of being consistent.

Josh Kraght, former Lynden boys basketball player

“I heard at a clinic some years ago,” Roper said, “someone said the game is overcoached and undertaught. Coaching is an extension of teaching. You want to break down skills, have a plan and teach the whole person, not just the content. The game is like a test. You see how good the players have learned and how well you’ve taught them to compete and execute.”

In the Lions’ basketball classroom – commonly known as practice – Roper is not afraid to step aside and let what has been a long, impressive list of assistant coaches take the lead on teaching his players.

“The biggest thing that impressed me about Rope’s coaching style was how humble he was,” Kraght said. “He doesn’t have a big ego that gets in the way. He was able to bring in assistants like (Kent) Victor and McKee and allow them to take over parts of his team. When I was there, he had nothing to do with defense – he’d step back and let Victor do it. McKee did the zone offense. He’s able to step back and distribute responsibility to other people. It’s not all about him; it’s about what gives us the best chance to win.”

Roper is like the silent assassin. He’s a nice guy, and he treats everyone good, but if you didn’t know him well, you wouldn’t know how bad he wants to win.

Lynden athletic director Mike McKee

With the exception of a winless season in his first year at North Mason, Roper has certainly been able to win. He helped turn both North Mason and Sequim into annual contenders before moving on from those programs, and he’s maintained the level of excellence at Lynden set by two men he will soon join in the WIBCA Hall of Fame – Jake Maberry and John Clark.

In his 11 years at Lynden, the Lions have advanced to state nine times, winning eight trophies and Class 2A state titles in 2007 and 2012. In both of those years, his rosters had a number of athletes who were not basketball-first players, as both years Lynden also won a state title in football. But Kraght said Roper would find a way to discover “what would work for them.”

To Roper, though, those seasons were more about having fun with the guys on his team.

“I hope guys have great memories and make some great friendships after playing for Lynden,” Roper said. “I hope they get some life lessons along the way about competing with class, respecting opponents, the game and officials, and that they just have a lot of fun along the way.”

Brian Roper bio

High school: Capital in Boise, Idaho

College: Seattle Pacific (graduated in 1984)

Coaching career: Began coaching as an assistant at Edmonds and Arlington high schools. He got his first head coaching position at North Mason in 1993. In 1999, he moved to Sequim, before taking over at Lynden in 2005.

Personal: He and wife Jill have three children – two daughters, Sarah and Julia, and one son, Jay.