The Longhorns boys basketball team might bring out the absolute best in every opponent it faces this season.
That's because foes will be primed and motivated to build upon their reputations with wins over a heralded Longhorn team that opened the season state second-ranked and the defending Arizona Class 3A runners-up.
Shouldering the load of being a state championship favorite is a far cry from last year, when the little-recognized Horns were able to ambush unwary opponents who knew nothing of Payson and its high-powered lineup.
But those days are only memories and the Horns now open each game sitting directly in the upset cross hairs of their opponent's sights.
Much of the hype the Horns are receiving this year is due to the presence of several seasoned veterans, including 6-foot, 10-inch senior Oliver Lewinson and 6-foot 6-inch Matt Wilson.
That pair, along with 6-foot, 4-inch Tyler Savage and 6-foot, 3-inch Robert Walker give the Horns the tallest lineup in school history.
But as big as the Horns are, the size did not bode them well in a season-opening 60-49 loss to Scottsdale Christian Academy.
Payson, however, has the opportunity to rebound from the disheartening defeat today, Tuesday, against defending state champion Fountain Hills.
Last year, the Falcons defeated Payson 53-41 in the state championship game, thanks to 31 points from Alex Bunk, who attended PHS as a freshman.
This time around, Payson won't have to deal with the scoring of Bunk, who graduated last spring. With him, the Falcons -- who have been a state basketball power the past four seasons -- are in a reloading mode.
Game times are 4 (freshmen) 5:30 (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity).
Shooting, ball handling woes plague Horns
In the loss to Scottsdale Christian, the Longhorns misfired on all cylinders, possibly because many of the sharpshooters the team depends on were still rounding into basketball shape after wrapping up football and soccer seasons.
From two-point range, the Horns shot just 29 percent. From beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc, the team hit just 29 percent.
About the only Longhorn on fire offensively was senior guard Levi Neal, who cashed in on six-of-nine two pointers and was two-of-three from three-ball land.
By scoring a team-high 18 points, along with two rebounds, three steals and an assist, he was Payson's most efficient player.
Getting anything less from him would have been a disappointment.
The six-foot guard has been a gym rat most of his life and could often be found playing against older, bigger opponents when he was an elementary school student.
His hoop roots also run decades in the past to his grandfather, Troy, who was a former player at Arizona State University and a coach at Tempe High School. In addition to the Horns suffering from shooting woes, the players struggled with their floor game coming 23 turnovers.
The Horns did, however, receive a commendable game from Cody York, who dished out five assists, had five steals, six six rebounds and scored six points.
Lewinson, who often leads the Horns in shots taken, attempted only four shots from the field. He finished with nine points, thanks to six-of-six shooting from the free-throw line.
On the boards, the big two of Lewinson and Wilson struggled, hauling in only a combined five rebounds.
Walker, who was a big part of last year's team before being sidelined with an ankle injury, tallied eight points, while pulling the trigger on 17 attempts.
Walker also had five rebounds, which was second only to York, and was in on three steals.