Longhorn fans will learn this week if the boys basketball team is a legitimate contender for the East regional crown or is simply playing the role of an early season pretender.
Payson's 2-0 East record (5-3 overall) seems to indicate the squad can play on the same floor with the likes of regional powers Show Low, Snowflake, Round Valley, Blue Ridge and Alchesay. However, the Horns' unbeaten credentials are a tad misleading in that the two East wins were over lowly Pinnacle and tractional also-ran Holbrook.
On Friday, the Longhorns travel to Snowflake to take on a Lobo squad that was projected in preseason to contend for state honors.
"It'll be a big game for us," coach Randy Wilcox said.
If the Horns can somehow return to the Rim country with a road win over the Lobos, the team would be off and running toward a top four East finish and a ticket to the season-ending big dance in Flagstaff and at America West Arena.
But, before the team travels to Snowflake, it must protect its home court this evening in a nonregional clash against Camp Verde.
Although the outcome of the game will have no bearing on the East standings and a berth in the state tournament, the 7:30 p.m. contest will give Wilcox the opportunity to fine-tune his lineup before East battles wage in earnest.
In a 70-58 win over Holbrook Dec. 12 in Wilson Dome, the PHS coach watched his two low-post stalwarts wreak havoc on the Roadrunner's inside game.
Mike Doss and Sterling White dominated the proceedings in the paint by combing for 33 points and 23 rebounds.
Their efforts on the boards helped the Horns out rebound the Runners 28-16. If the pair can duplicate their scoring and rebounding feats against Snowflake, the Horns would sport a key ingredient of every successful prep squad.
Also against Holbrook, the Horns put on a show of improved free-throw shooting that if it continues would be a huge plus for Wilcox's charges.
After shooting 30-40 percent in many of its early season games, including those in the Winslow Ames Ford Shootout Dec. 1 and 2, the Horns were good on 11 of 14 charity tosses against Holbrook.
The improvement in accuracy brought a sigh of relief from Wilcox and assistant Greg Marrs who had stressed shooting practice since drills opened in early November.
Also important to the Horn cause will be the ability to unselfishly execute the offense against what is expected to be a stubborn Snowflake Lobo "D." That task will fall squarely on the shoulders of guards Dusty Brockett, Tyler Pettet and Brad Bynum.
The trio proved they were up to the chore in the win over Holbrook by successfully engineering the team to the victory. Bynum led the team in assists with seven. Pettet and Brockett both dished out six.
After traveling to Snowflake Friday, the team returns to Wilson dome the following day to play host to Blue Ridge. Tip off is 7:30 p.m.