Hardwood Horns Begin Rebuilding Year On The Court


Fewer characters and more character is one of the goals second-year Longhorn boys' basketball coach Randy Wilcox has set for his program.

"Integrity will be one of our points of emphasis," Wilcox said. "We want good kids on and off the court. We'll stress academics too."

The coach and new assistant Greg Marrs, formerly of Tucson Flowing Wells, had an opportunity to stress their expectations to the team members over the weekend at a mini-camp held near Tonto Village.

Wilcox said the stay, which also included practices Saturday, could go a long way in building camaraderie among the athletes.

Back in Payson, the team has resumed after school practices in preparation for a pre-season scrimmage set for 2 p.m. in Wilson Dome against Monument Valley.

The regular season opens in earnest Nov. 23 in Chino Valley. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Finding replacements

In assessing the new team's strengths and weaknesses, Wilcox and Marrs first point out that the upcoming season will be a rebuilding one for the Longhorns. Seven seniors from the 1998-1999 team graduated last spring with the class of 1999.

Gone are the who's who of Payson basketball for the past three seasons -- Ryan Lorentz, Jeremy Reynolds, Jeremy Hoff, Chad Deschaff, Josh McRae, Marc Bennett and Hunter Walden.

Injuries, an inability to jell and down-right hard luck prevented the team from reaching its potential during last year's disappointing 10-15 season.

The new Longhorn team probably doesn't possess the individual talent or athleticism that last year's squad did, but Wilcox and Marrs are confident the team can be respectable in the rough-and-tumble East division.

To succeed, the team members must master the nuances of break-neck, fast-break basketball that Wilcox will call upon them to play.

Having coached for several years -- two as a varsity head coach at a reservation school in New Mexico -- Wilcox is an advocate of the fast-break offense as it is traditionally played by Hopi, Navajo and Apache teams.

Should the team be forced to slow down and play the half-court game, it will turn to a "Catch and Shoot" offense that Wilcox and Marrs say they are still refining.

Defensively, the Horns will try to create havoc and turnovers with a tenacious full-court press that will include both man-to-man and zone principles. The coaches say they will also soon install a half-court trap.

Wilcox predicts the team will "be a fun and exciting one to watch."

To run-and-gun and thrill the spectators as the coaches hope to do, players must be in peak physical condition.

Fatigue can make cowards of us all, legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said. To avoid such a scenario, the coaching staff say they will be putting the Horns through a strenuous conditioning program that should also help build discipline once crunch time rolls around.

The personnel

Wilcox says his players are mostly untested on the varsity level, but the ingredients could be there for a quality team.

Only three athletes -- Joe Sanchez, Andrew Easton and David Shaw -- have any varsity experience and theirs is extremely limited. Sanchez spent much of last season on the sidelines injured. Easton and Shaw played most of the campaign on the jayvee team but did see limited varsity action.

Also in the mix for playing time is newcomer Keith Stevens, a senior who did not participate last year. Coaches say he's suffering from inexperience but has done some things well in preseason drills.

The biggest contributors to the Horn cause could be a strong crew of juniors up from last year's jayvee team. They include Tyler Pettet Sterling White, Ty Bennett, Brad Bynum, David LaForge, Sam Rudd and Nolan Blalock.

Under former jayvee coach Teddy Pettet, the players were asked to play the same fast-break style Wilcox advocates. The run-and-gun philosophy will be old hat to them.

In addition to suffering from a lack of varsity experience, the Horns have no player taller than White, who stands 6 feet, 5 inches.

"That's why we have to beat teams down the floor," the coach said. "We have no height to speak of."

The opponents

Wilcox and Marrs say it's too early in the season to predict which East division teams might be the favorites, but through the coaching grapevine, Wilcox has determined Show Low could be a hardwood force to deal with.

"I hear they have a bunch of gym rats over there," he said.

Traditionally, Snowflake, Round Valley and Alchesay have also boasted strong teams capable of winning the division crown.

Blue Ridge, a football powerhouse, is a dark horse in the race for East hoop honors.

The underclassmen

On the freshmen level, coach Matt Janish -- who headed the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade team last season -- had 26 players turn out. After assessing their skills and attitudes, he'll soon trim the roster to either 13 or 14 players.

Set to lead the jayvees into hardwood play is former freshman coach Shawn Hardt. He now has 12 sophomores trying out and will pick up several of the 12 juniors who do not make the varsity.

The freshmen and jayvees will not have games at the Nov. 20 scrimmage, but will open the season Nov. 23 in Chino Valley. Start times for most freshman contests is 4 p.m. Jayvees traditionally tip off at 6 p.m.

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