The Rim country will soon turn into a hot bed of high school off-season basketball. That's because teams from 16 schools have committed to participate in the Longhorn Summer Basketball Tournament June 14 and 15 in Wilson Dome, the old PHS gym and at Rim Country Middle School.
Since the tenure of former coach Jim Quinlan, the tournament has sported a rich tradition of drawing some of the best teams in the state regardless of school size classification.
Valley area coaches frequently say they enjoy bringing their athletes to the cool Rim country where they can escape the big city. It's not unusual to see the players camping out, enjoying a swim at the narrows or fishing in a Rim lake.
Much of the credit for turning the tournament into a first-class affair must go to Quinlan. During his nine-year tenure, Quinlan transformed the tournament from a small-school shootout to one that attracted 4A and 5A powers. Quinlan reasoned that bringing the premier teams to Payson to take on his Longhorns could only improve his squad for the following season.
Former Longhorn wrestling coach Dennis Pirch was a firm believer in that philosophy. He'd travel any where, any time to find stiff competition for his mat men.
PHS basketball coach Mike Loutzenheiser is following in the footsteps of Quinlan and Pirch by issuing invitations to some of the best teams in the state.
Big school teams set to participate are Mesa Mountain View, South Mountain, Caesar Chavez, Casa Grande, Phoenix North, Mesa Red Mountain, Shadow Mountain and Tucson Amphitheater.
Loutzenheiser also has retained small-school flair to the tournament by inviting several 3A schools. They include Lakeside Blue Ridge, Seton Catholic, River Valley, Grand Canyon, Higley, Chino Valley and Queen Creek.
The gem in this year's tournament field might be Mesa Mountain View which is coached by part-time Payson resident Gary Ernst.
Mountain View enters the tournament loaded with a roster full of talented players including Yashosh Bonner and Dallas Rensch.
Bonner, who transferred to Mountain View from Utah last year, is being recruited by several Division I universities and is widely considered one of the finest point guards in the state. Some have gone so far as to project he'll someday play in the pros.
Rensch, an all-region player for the Toros last season, formerly attended Payson High School but transferred to Mountain View two years ago.
In off-season club play, Rensch has showcased his considerable ball-handling and shooting skills around the country.
Tournament play begins at 8 a.m. Friday morning and continues almost uninterrupted until about 9 p.m. that evening.
There's also a full slate of games on tap Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. There is no admission charge either day.
The tournament affords fans the opportunity for a close look at some of the best young talent in the state. Several of the players who have participated in the tournament in past years have gone on to fame on the college level.
Like Quinlan envisioned years ago, the tournament also provides local players the opportunity to see how they might fare when pitted against players from 4A and 5A ranks. Traditional thinking is that big-school players are more polished than those who attend small-town schools.
But that's not always the case.
A number of years ago at a summer tournament at Yavapai College in Prescott, a Quinlan-coached Payson team upset mighty Phoenix Shadow Mountain.
And, guess who the point guard for Shadow Mountain was? It was none other than former University of Arizona star and Sacramento Kings standout Mike Bibby.