The Payson All-Stars boys basketball team will be without the services of one of its most stellar players when action tips off tomorrow in the Small Jam tournament.
Alex Cassuto, who will be a sophomore at Payson High next school year, was severely injured in a water-skiing accident at Roosevelt Lake and is hospitalized in Phoenix.
All-Stars coach Jim Quinlan said Cassuto will be sorely missed and said he and the team members are praying for the teenager's speedy and complete recovery.
Without Cassuto in the line-up, the team's starting five Mark Moore, Dallas Rensch, Paul Silver, Nicky Cassuto and Mike Barr will be forced to play more minutes, Quinlan said.
Reserve help will come from a yet-to-be-named junior high school player and possibly a Valley teenager who will join the squad.
This past week, Quinlan has put the players through their paces in nightly practice sessions to condition the athletes and work on a simple offense, he said. After watching their efforts, he said he's impressed with their style of play. "They are a scrappy bunch that can run the floor.
The team will need to be at its best to play on even terms with the stiff competition that has entered the hardwood event.
The tournament, for boys 15-years-and-under, features an open format which allows all-star teams to enter. The tournament's big brother the Copper State Jam held each January is open to junior high and middle school teams only.
The success of the Copper State shoot-out the past two years prompted tournament director Steve Rensch to develop the Small Jam as a summer alternative for young players.
Like the Copper State, the Small Jam will feature the usual festivities, including a tent outside the Tonto Apache 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 $2 for children.
Payson jumps sneakers-first into the fray by taking on one of the tournament favorites, Team Arizona, in an opening round game set to tip off at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.
According to Steve Rensch, Team Arizona is a South Phoenix all-star team featuring players from the Salvation Army gym.
Payson action continues Saturday at 2:45 p.m. against Tucson Old Vail and at 7 p.m. against the Globe Celtics.
The day wraps up at 9:30 p.m. with Payson hosting the Phoenix All-Stars.
At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Payson locks horns with the Phoenix Hoosiers.
If the local team can nail down a top-four win-loss record in its first five games, it will be seeded into a championship bracket played Sunday afternoon.
Play begins at 1:15 p.m. with the fourth seed playing the first seed. At 2:30 p.m. the first seed takes on the second.
The winners of those two games play at 4 p.m. for first and second place.
The losers of the championship opening round games will not play a regulation contest for third-place honors. Rather, players from the squads will engage in a unique three-point shoot-out to determine the third-place winner.
According to Rensch, each player on the roster will shoot one three-point shot from beyond the 19 foot, 9 inch arc. The team that scores the most points will be declared the tournament's bronze medalist.
At the conclusion of the event, an all-tournament and most valuable player will be named.