ENCINITAS — Torrey Pines High School seniors Bryce and Michael Pope are almost impossible to tell apart on the basketball court, which can be a gift and a curse.
It can drive opponents crazy. And of course, nothing beats playing with your brother. But when you’re trying to create your own identity — and get a scholarship — on the basketball court? Not so much.
So this spring and summer, Bryce and Michael did something that seemed equally as impossible as the task of telling them apart — for the first time in their basketball careers, they split up.
Bryce, a 6-3 guard known for his silky stroke and prolific scoring exploits, played travel ball for Vista-based Gamepoint Basketball. Michael, a 6-3 guard also known for his silky stroke and prolific scoring exploits, suited up for Solana Beach-based California Select.
It was the best decision they could have ever made, they said.
“It was a little different, but I think it was better for us in the long run,” Michael said.
“I agree,” Bryce chimed in. “I think it was better because we didn’t have to worry about how the other brother played in the same game.
“I definitely think that up until recently, people just grouped us together, but this summer people saw us they didn’t see two of us, there was just one of us playing, each in our own game.”
The twins’ dad, Charlie Pope, said he originally wasn’t sure about the twins splitting up. After all, they’d played on the same teams since they first started organized hoops with the Carmel Valley Stingrays.
But after three years of watching coaches struggle to differentiate the two on the court, he saw the merit in separating them for a time.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but as the whole experience unfolded, it turned out to be very positive in the sense that they got to create their own identities without their twin brother being there to bet in the way of creating their own identity,” Charlie Pope said. “For so long, as identical twins, they would play together and I would have people tell me, ‘The boys played a great game,’ but I can tell what one is doing and what one is not doing, and I know that both didn’t have a great game. So this really allowed from them to shine separately.”
If there was a twin who benefited most from the separation, it would have to be Michael, Charlie said.
Bryce was coming off of a junior year where he led his team in scoring and was named to the All CIF San Diego Section basketball team. Michael, too, had a great year, averaging 13 points per game, but didn’t receive some of the lofty accolades as Bryce.
Some coaches and scouts saw Michael as “just a shooter.”
“Bryce just has always had that confidence a little more than Michael,” Charlie Pope said. “This experience allowed Mike to gain a lot more confidence and get out of Bryce’s shadow to a certain degree.”
With California Select, Michael had the opportunity to play the point guard position, which included more ball handling and playmaking duties than he had on previous teams.
The result: Michael’s confidence grew, along with his college interest.
“It was good for me because I took on more responsibility as a player and more of a ball handler, and to be a leader of the team,” said Michael, who said he’s receiving interest from Tennessee Tech, U-Mass and Cal State University Northridge. “I didn’t have to rely on Bryce to help me out at all, and I think that was good for me.”
For Bryce, the spring and summer gave him a chance to square off against high-level talent and prove he could score against bigger guards. He received his first Division 1 offer, from Army, and lists UC San Diego and Brown as the other schools recruiting him the hardest.
The two said they aren’t looking to play college ball together, something they discussed even before playing on separate travel teams.
“Growing up, we both wanted to play in college, but not necessarily together,” Bryce said. “A couple of years ago, we started actually thinking that separating would be a better decision for college. It forces us to break out and make friends on our own.”
But for the next nine months, Bryce and Michael are happy to be back together in school and on the same court, working toward the same goal: a CIF Championship.
“It feels good to be back,” Michael said. “In the summer, we were doing our own thing, but now it’s back to high school, we both have a common goal: doing whatever it takes to help our team win.”
“We are just trying to be the leaders of the team and work as hard as we can to make our team the best team possible,” Bryce said. “Obviously leading the team to an Open Division CIF title is the goal, and hopefully we can make some noise in state.”