Rookie head coach Mike Loutzenheiser takes his Longhorn basketball team to Camp Verde today looking to put the skids on a slow start that has resulted in a 2-7 record.
Entered in the two-day Camp Verde Invitational, the Horns open the tournament at 5 p.m. in the high school gym against River Valley. Action continues until the championship round is contested tomorrow (Saturday) at 7 p.m.
In the opener, the Horns will be battling a West region team Loutzenheiser and the players know little about. That's because River Valley plays many of its games against teams from the western part of the state and in California.
Payson plays mostly against schools from the eastern section of Arizona.
Because of their geographical differences and traveling time between the two schools, only in a holiday or state tournament would Payson and River Valley be pitted against one another.
In addition to Payson having the opportunity to play against new faces, the tournament gives the team the chance to iron out kinks in its offensive and defensive schemes before East play begins Jan. 11 against Snowflake.
Once those regional games tip off, every shot and rebound will have state playoff implications.
If the Longhorns have a player who can lead them to the CV invitational title and on to East honors its 6-foot 5-inch center Mike Barr.
Although he's a sophomore with very limited varsity experience, Barr has been the Horns main offensive threat. His best outings were 19 (vs. Valley Christian), 18 (vs. Red Mesa) and 13 points (vs. Camp Verde).
Against Camp Verde, he also asserted himself on the boards corralling a team-high 10 rebounds.
When Barr's teammates can get him the ball down low where he can use his size to an advantage, the Horns have a potent scorer.
Because the team has only two returning letter winners Matt Woolwine and Ky Bradley the lack of varsity playing experience has plagued the Horns in early season action.
The good news in that dilemma is youngsters like Nikki Cassuto, Waylon Pettet, Alex Cassuto, Jake Swartwood and Derek Daniels can only get better. All of those roster members have made contributions to the team effort, but the coach is prodding them to become more consistent.
Also, Loutzenheiser is tutoring his young athletes to play more cohesively on the offensive end of the floor.
Since the onset of the season, the new coach has preached the advantages of unselfish play in his "wheel" or motion offense.
If the players adhere to the offensive principles and look for the open teammate rather than trying to play one-on-one, the scheme will create plenty of opportunities for shots, the coach contends.
Defensively, Loutzenheiser wants his team to turn in a hard-nosed effort that creates scoring opportunities off steals and turnovers. In addition to man-to-man defenses, the Horns have a 4-1 zone press and a 1-2-2 match zone in their arsenal.
Tournament game times after today's opening round will vary.
Call Camp Verde High School at (928) 567-8033 for more information.