Since last spring, Teddy Pettet has worked diligently to put together a Payson Holiday Hoops Basketball Tournament that will become one of the best of the Christmas season invitationals.
As the first-year tournament director, Pettet's initial goal was to expand the tournament field to 17 teams from 12. In the course of doing so, tournament invitations mailed out last spring drew teams from Tucson, Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, Casa Grande and Flagstaff.
With high schools like Marcos de Niza, Canyon del Oro, Gilbert, Westwood, Arcadia, Caesar Chavez and Mesa in the field, the tournament definitely sports a "big school" flavor.
However, the three-year-old hardwood affair also retains some of its small-town appeal with Globe, Higley, Payson and Round Valley participating.
The RV Elks enter the tournament as last season's East regional champion. Because the Elks enjoyed a highly successful summer program, PHS coach Shaun Hardt predicts the team is well stocked to make a run at a second successive East title and possibly Holiday Hoops honors.
From the Northern Arizona reservation towns where some of the most exciting girls basketball is played the Tuba City Warriors will bring their spirited, high-octane running game to Payson.
As the defending state champions, Tuba City also is one of the favorites to win the holiday crown.
"With eight 5A, two 4A (teams) and Tuba City, there are a lot of big dogs in this tournament," Hardt said. "It is bigger and tougher than ever."
The presence of a mix of teams representing almost all school size classifications, will give the players an opportunity to test their skills against opponents they might not see during the course of the regular season.
Also, the tournament will provide the Payson players a stern test that should bode them well once the East season tips off in January.
Another sterling tournament challenge for the players is a 3-point shoot-out that will draw one athlete from each of the teams.
The contest which involves each player shooting 15 shots from different locations beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc in less than a minute will be held during halftime of each of the tournament games.
The competition will be conducted much like the NBA's 3-point shoot-out that is held each year as part of the all-star game festivities.
Pettet has cleverly designed a schedule that he says will allow each team's designated shooter to compete without it conflicting with any of the other team's tournament games.
First-round action in the tournament begins at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 27 in Wilson Dome with Payson playing host to Phoenix Christian. Final games begin that day at 4:30 p.m.
Throughout the course of the two-day tournament to be played in both the dome and old PHS gym each team will be guaranteed four games. That guarantee, Pettet said, will afford each coach the opportunity to give his players ample court time when regional and state playoff berths are not at stake.
Although tournament championships are always team goals, coaches often use holiday invitationals to evaluate their players and formulate game plans for the regular season.
The tournament culminates at 8 p.m. Dec. 28 with the championship finale in the dome.
During halftime of that game, the finals of the 3-point shoot-out will be held.
On Thursday, admission to the tournament is $5 for all games in both gyms.
Admission to Friday's early morning and afternoon games is also $5.
For the championship round Friday evening which will include a trio of games for the consolation crown, third and fourth place and first and second place the admission will be $5. A concession stand will also be available.
All proceeds from the tournament benefit the Lady Longhorn basketball program.
Hardt and his players are hoping for a good turnout.
"The girls would like a dome full of fans," he said. "That usually makes (teams) play better."