Former Horns' Star To Head Up Basketball Program

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Former Longhorn football and basketball standout Mike Loutzenheiser was appointed the Payson Longhorns' new head boys basketball coach at Monday evening's regularly scheduled meeting of the school district governing board.

Loutzenheiser replaces Randy Wilcox who resigned late last season.

After Wilcox stepped down, athletic director Dave Bradley coached the team for the remainder of the 2001 season.

Longtime Longhorn sports fans will remember Loutzenheiser as a 1987 PHS graduate who helped the football team reach the state championship, where it lost to Snowflake 7-0.

In addition to his exploits as a wide receiver, Loutzenheiser was a two-year varsity basketball letter winner. After graduating from Payson High School, Loutzenheiser attended Arizona State University in Tempe where he earned a BS degree in recreational management and later a Masters in Education.

In addition to his coaching responsibilities, Loutzenheiser will teach a resource math class at Payson High.

Prior to returning to ASU several years ago to earn his master's degree, Loutzenheiser worked in Payson as a Gila County Probation Officer.

During his stint as a P.O., Loutzenheiser helped coach the 1995 Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade football team to an undefeated season and the White Mountain League championship. One year later, he coached the same group during its freshman football season and for two years was the junior varsity boys basketball assistant under then varsity coach Jim Quinlan.

Quinlan said the choice of Loutzenheiser is a good one.

"He played here, coached here and then got away from it for a while ... I think he's going to be a good young coach."

While working on his masters at ASU, Loutzenheiser taught and coached at the Phoenix Center for Education.

Last season, he was a volunteer assistant in basketball at Gilbert Mesquite High and at Greenfield Junior High School.

After being officially appointed the new PHS coach, Loutzenheiser said he was excited about returning to his alma mater and was looking forward to the challenge of building the basketball program into one of the 3A conference's best.

Running start

After only two summer practice sessions, the rookie coach had the opportunity to preview his players at the Payson Summer Prep Tournament held Saturday in Wilson Dome.

Under Quinlan's tenure (1989-1998), the summer boys basketball tournament attracted Class 5A powers, including Mesa Mountain View, Tempe Desert Vista, Tucson Amphitheater and Scottsdale Horizon.

But this summer, PHS athletic director Dave Bradley decided to limit the tournament field to Class 2A and 3A teams.

That decision was made, Bradley said, to allow 3A Payson more opportunity for more success.

Saturday, teams representing Pima, Scottsdale Christian, Pinnacle, Globe and River Valley replaced the big school powers.

During the fray, Loutzenheiser watched his new charges play their way to a 2-2 record with wins over Pima (56-55) and River Valley (62-61) and losses to Pinnacle (59-52) and Scottsdale Christian (65-60). The Rim team didn't play Globe.

If the new coach was looking for immediate excitement, he found it in the one-point win over Pima.

With the score deadknotted at 65 and less than a second remaining on the clock, Payson's Jake Swartwood was fouled while attempting a game-winning shot that misfired. Officials signaled regulation play at an end, but awarded Swartwood two free throws.

With the court clear of players, Swartwood in a pressure-cooker situation stood alone at the charity stripe for the two attempts.

His first shot misfired. His second attempt saw the ball rattled through, giving the Payson team its first win of the summer season.

Following the tournament, the new coach said he was happy with the team's play.

"I was impressed with their hustle," he said. "They were aggressive on defense and most importantly, improved each game."

Loutzenheiser cited Nicky Cassuto for his spirited performance at point guard and Taylor Walden for his work on the boards.

However, the coach said he doesn't yet know if Walden will be in the Longhorn fold next basketball season.

After graduating from Rim Country Middle School, Walden attended PHS his freshman year but then moved first to Show Low and then Tolleson. Loutzenheiser said he hopes Walden decides to return to Payson High next school year.

Waylon Pettet, Chris Donaldson and Mike Barr were among other players drawing praise from the new coach.

"They all played well and contributed," he said.

The agenda

Now that he has officially assumed the reins of the hoop program, the new coach is hoping to attract even more prospective players to open gym sessions held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays in Wilson Dome.

Also, he plans on uncovering more summer competition to help the players better prepare for the rigors of next season.

Some of the competition he's working on is the renewing of a longtime summer rivalry against Tucson Amphitheater. If Amphi coach Pat Derksen agrees, the Tucson team will travel to Payson for single games June 29 and 30. Game times have not yet been set.

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