Mercer Island is home to a number of sports greats, but perhaps none is as locally celebrated as former Mercer Island High School boys basketball coach Ed Pepple.
As head coach of MIHS boys hoops for 42 years, Pepple holds the best win-loss record in the state, was named national coach of the year in 1988 and has been inducted into several halls of fame, including those of the National High School Coaches Association and Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association. And today he'll be honored with an induction into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame.
Perhaps most notable is more 80 of his players went on to play in college and two played in the NBA. Mercer Island Patch asked several of Pepple's former players to pay tribute to their former coach on the eve of his honor today at CenturyLink Field.
The following tributes are from Elliot Prasse-Freeman, Tyler Besecker and current MIHS boys basketball head coach Gavin Cree, three former players who helped Mercer Island win their last state title in 1999.
Coach Pepple treated basketball with the respect you’d give to a work of art, he wanted you to understand it like a scientific system, and he treated it as an existential commitment: something to which you devoted a part of yourself, something with which you could grow as a person, if you were willing. This sounds quite serious, but he simultaneously infused the game with an infectious joy – something that I think was possible because he loved the game so much.
One little anecdote brings a lot of this together: at the end of our state championship game victory in 1997 we were clinging to a three-point lead, facing full-court pressure after a Mount Vernon basket. But, because we had the perfect play for every situation, senior captain Bryan Brown executed a 60-foot “hook pass” to his streaking point guard for a wide-open lay-up. For years we had practiced that pass – not really knowing why: we all thought it was antiquated and ridiculous. Coach Pepple insisted. And there, at that critical moment, Bryan used it because it was the right tool for the situation.
I think Coach P was nearly as happy about that hook pass as he was about anything else! Or at least that’s how I want to remember it. Anyway, there are of course thousands of other Coach P stories – his penchant for calling everything a “deal” (and always imploring us to “stop freaking with” it), finding exquisite diners between summer tournament games (the Poodle Dog in Fife holds a special place in my memory), waging a holy war on my preferred (but reckless) no-look jump-passes – that embodied a dedication that turned Mercer Island basketball into an institution, something people wanted to be a part of, to contribute to.
I speak for thousands of boys-become-men when I say I’m proud to have been his player.
It's hard to believe I have known Coach Pepple for over 20 years. My Dad told me that when I was 12 years-old, I told him that playing for Coach Pepple was easy and fun. You practice and prepare, travel to a tournament, win the tournament, get a trophy and then you come home. People say that there is more to the game than winning and losing and that is a very true statement.
As young men, Coach Pepple taught my best friends and me a wide variety of skills and traits. Discipline, hard work, goal-setting and teamwork stick out the most, however if you ask most basketball players from Mercer Island how they learned to tie a neck tie they will without a doubt tell you it was from Coach. While playing for Coach, we traveled the world to such places as Phoenix, Reno, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Dallas, Tyler TX, Colorado Springs, Honolulu, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, and Tokyo to name a few.
We won two National Championships in summer ball and two State Basketball Championships in high school. Yes, there is a lot more to the game than winning and we experienced it all while winning at the same time. I want to congratulate Coach Pepple on his induction into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame. An award well deserved for his many achievements on the hardwood.
I would also like to personally thank him for all that he taught me in the thousands of hours we spent on and off the court. Congratulations Coach Pepple!
Having grown up in his program since third grade and coached with him for 5 years, Coach Pepple is really like a second father figure for me. He helped me to develop accountability, leadership and perseverance. I think the trademark of the program under his guidance was that he absolutely maximized the talent on the floor every year. His legacy to me is not what he did with his most talented teams, but what he was able to achieve with the teams who no one expected to be successful. Like any good teacher, Coach P always set the expectations high, and his teams rose to the occasion to meet them. We continue to honor the tradition of setting the bar high.
I'll never forget the first interaction I ever had with Coach P. It was third grade hoop camp and I came in late during roll call wearing my favorite new Nike hat (I thought I was cool). He stopped the camp and told me two things in front of the rest of the campers. "One, we don't wear hats when we come inside, and two, if you can't be on time...be early!" I knew then that this guy was all business. Needless to say, I learned a couple of valuable lessons that day! Even today, I always think, What would Coach P say to this?"
(What ever happened to the "take off your hat inside" rule? I miss it!)
Just as an aside, include it if you want, but people always ask me what it's like to follow a legend, etc. I honestly hardly ever think about filling shoes or put pressure on myself. We're two different coaches with similar but different philosophies. I know Coach P so well that I feel like I can predict how he would respond to any situation...so I always have him in the back of my mind, but I have my own beliefs about the game as well.