Tough Schedule Helps To Harden Longhorn Team

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Kenny Hayes is certain a rugged preseason schedule that included many of the state's finest teams will buoy the Longhorns well during the upcoming second half of the season.

"The talented teams we played gave us a real test and that's going to help down the road," he said.

Among the teams the Longhorns faced during the first month of the season were Class 2A state title favorite Valley Christian, state 3A No. 2-ranked Chinle, defending 4A state champion Phoenix Notre Dame, 5A-II No. 3-ranked Ironwood, wood, defending 3A champion Fountain Hills and highly regarded Scottsdale Christian.

During the string of testing hardwood battles, the Horns finished with a 4-2 record and won the team sportsmanship award at the Alvarez Tire Invitational, held Dec. 27 to 29 in Prescott Valley.

The Horns also performed most of the latter part of last month without 6-foot, 8-inch center, Oliver Lewinson -- the team's leading scorer and rebounder -- who is visiting out of the country with his family.

In Lewinson's absence, "we had a lot of kids step up and play really well," Hayes said.

In particular, junior forward Matt Wilson used his 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound frame to rule in the paint during most of the showdowns.

"He plays great help defense and he's such an unselfish player," Hayes said.

Although Wilson is known more on the PHS campus for his exploits in football rather than the hardwood, Hayes admits he is intrigued with the teen's potential.

"He's going to be really good for us," Hayes said.

A real fascination for armchair hoop fans is the possibility of Wilson and Lewinson being on the court at the same time alongside Tyler Savage.

That would give the Longhorns the tallest front line in school history -- feet, 8 inches, 6 feet, 6 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches.

Just how well the three would play together is a question mark but having a D-I college-sized front line is a rarity in 3A high school basketball.

In the absence of Lewinson, Hayes' starting five usually includes point guard Shane Keith, shooting guard Levi Neal and Robert Walker, Savage and Wilson on the front line.

Junior guard Cody York, who can play the 1, 2 or 3 positions, has been the first man off the bench.

"I like him as the sixth man because he brings so much energy and scoring," Hayes said.

Also for the Horns, Walker gives the Horns an offensive threat the team didn't have last year when he was sidelined most of the season with an ankle injury.

The Horns return to the hardwood tomorrow, Saturday, against Globe of the South region. Game time is 7 p.m. in the Wilson Dome. The game will be preceded by freshmen (4 p.m.) and junior varsity (5:30 p.m.) clashes.

Class 3A East region action tips off Jan. 8 against Round Valley in Springerville-Eagar. Following that clash, the Horns play a series of home and away games against the other five members of the East region.

East play wraps up Feb. 2 and regional tournament action begins three days later.

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