Miles Huff has waited in the wings for three seasons hoping to become a huge contributor to the varsity basketball effort.
The wait is over.
The senior point guard left no doubt about his true grit in the Pepsi-Cola Shoot Out Invitational held Dec. 7 to 9 in Flagstaff. There, his play impressed coaches enough to earn him a prestigious position on the all tournament team. The honor came on the heels of Huff setting a school record for assists with 13, during a regular season win Nov. 28 over Sedona.
Earning the all-tournament honor was a first for Huff who has been in the basketball program for four years.
"I really didn't know if I had a chance for it," he said. "I didn't think much about it until after the last game when coach Hardt told me."
Huff said his finest game in the Pepsi showdown might have been the Horns tournament ending 72-58 win over Tucson Pueblo.
In scoring a game high of 23 points, he was 5-for-5 from the free throw line and cashed in on four three-pointers.
"I was tired though," he said. "I'd been playing a lot."
Hardt also realized his point guard was feeling the effects of two tournaments and three regular season games in the course of 10 days.
"He came to me and said, ‘Coach, my legs won't work'," Hardt said.
Huff was on the court more than usual, partly because fellow guard Bryson Addington was sidelined with an ankle injury.
In the Pepsi clash, Payson opened with a 70-41 win over Tuba City but then fell 84-71 in the second round to Winslow. During the hard fought loss to the Bulldogs, the Horns entered the fourth quarter dead knotted but were outscored 24-11 down the stretch. Winslow flourished on 38 points from all-tournament selection Freddie Nez who was 17-for-22 from the free throw line.
With the team's return to Payson, Hardt did not practice the team yesterday, Monday.
"We have some (players) sick," he said. "Riding back on the bus we could hear them hacking and coughing; they need the day off."
The team will return to practice today, Tuesday, in preparation for the 2006 finale Dec. 16 in Chinle.
Hardt said he was looking forward to the schedule respite without a game, which would allow the players practice opportunities to fine-tune their game.
"We are going to work on (playing) better defense especially when the ball goes in the paint," he said. "Offensively, we are going to work on movement and quicker recognition of zone and man (to-man) defenses."
Although some players are ill, Hardt said he expects Addington and Cody York, who was suffering from an ankle sprain, to return to the lineup for the trip to Chinle.
In the basketball hotbed of Chinle, which requires a six-hour bus ride to reach, the Horns will have the opportunity to play in what is widely considered the finest high school basketball arena in Arizona, if not the United States. The arena was finished this past summer and those who have seen it are singing its praises as a top-notch facility that has the capacity to seat the 20,000 fans who often show up for reservation games. The arena is also expected to host some collegiate games.
When senior members of the team made the trip to Chinle two years ago, the state-of-the-art arena was under construction.
The then-sophomores stared in disbelief at the comprehensive arena plans and models that hung on the entrance wall of their older gymnasium.
They said their wish was for the arena to be finished in time for them to play in it before graduation.
That wish comes true Dec. 16 in a dusty, windy northern Arizona reservation town where basketball is king.