The success of the past two Copper State Jam youth basketball tournaments has prompted its founder to host a similar hardwood shoot-out to be known as Small Jam.
Tournament director Steve Rensch said the inaugural Small Jam will be played July 22 and 23 in the Tonto Apache Gymnasium, where the Copper State event was held the past two winter seasons.
The field of entrants in the tournament which is open only to teams with players 15 years of age and under on their roster presently includes six teams but could expand to eight before the event, Rensch said.
The summer tournament will sport an open format allowing club and all-star teams to participate.
Early entries include three teams from metropolitan Phoenix, one from both Tucson and Globe and another from Payson.
Lending intrigue to the tournament is the presence of Globe and Phoenix Salvation Army.
Two years ago in the Copper State Jam, Globe Holy Angels a small parochial school turned into a crowd favorite with its spirited and unselfish style of play. The team eventually advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated.
Salvation Army, on the other hand, is a collection of some of urban South Phoenix's most talented young athletes. SA might not bring the most close-knit, polished squad, but the team will be rich in talent.
Rensch expects every visiting team in the tournament to be highly competitive but also warns fans not to count the Payson crew out of contention. It sports a lineup of exceptional athletes led by a seasoned coach with years of high school experience. Former Longhorn boys coach Jim Quinlan, who stepped down three years ago, will coach the Payson tournament entry.
Quinlan said he accepted Rensch's offer to coach the team for the fun of it, but also wants to put a quality squad on the floor.
The players have gone through the paces in several informal practices, but Quinlan hopes to gear up the sessions as the tournament tip off grows nearer.
"We'll put in an offense and make sure they are in good enough playing shape," he said.
The team practices Tuesday and Thursday in old Payson High School gymnasium.
The young and mighty
Set to join the team is a group of individuals with loads of experience.
Among the crew is the tournament director's 15-year-old son Dallas Rensch.
Last school year, as a freshman, the youngster played most of the season on the Horn jayvee team and was its leading scorer.
Dallas first made a name for himself two years ago when he starred for Tonto Village Shelby School, leading the team to a 28-6 record.
Joining him will be four teammates off that highly successful Shelby squad Alex Cassuto, Nicki Cassuto, Mark Moore and Paul Silver.
Former Mavs on roster
Also on the roster are a pair of young athletes who played last season for the Rim Country Middle School Mavericks Mike Barr and Landon Bunk.
At 6 feet, 4 inches, Barr isn't your typical scrawny freshman player. He has both the bulk and athletic ability to battle underneath with the best of players.
In June, the youngster picked up valuable experience playing on the Payson High varsity summer team.
Bunk is also a hefty young player, but at RCMS, he spent most of his playing time throwing up three-pointers from outside 20 feet. Quinlan might ask him to abandon that philosophy and contribute more in the battle on the boards.
Steve Rensch, who coached the Shelby team, predicts the addition of Barr and Bunk to the team will make the squad even more competitive than it was two years ago at Shelby.
"They can be as good as anybody in the tournament," he said.
If the tournament field remains at six teams, each entry will play five games over the course of the two days. Should the field expand to eight, the teams will play four games each.
Steve Rensch estimates action will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday and continue that evening until about 9 p.m.
Play resumes again Sunday at 8 a.m. and will wrap up that evening.
Like the Copper State, the Small Jam will feature the usual festivities a tent set up outside the Tonto gymnasium where fans and players can enjoy games of foosball and ping-pong, listen to music and partake of food provided by the local Frozen Cow restaurant.
Admission is $3 for adults and $3 for children per day.