When Thomas C. Wolfe penned the novel, “You Can Never Go Home Again,” he obviously hadn’t met Joe Sanchez.
That’s because Sanchez, a PHS graduate with the class of 2000, has gone home again and, contrary to what Wolfe wrote, has done it in grandiose fashion.
Sanchez’s return to the PHS campus peaked last week when he was named the new boys basketball coach at Payson High replacing Bill Goodwin, who was let go at the conclusion of the school year in a reshuffling of staff due to budget constraints.
Goodwin was at the helm of the Horn hardwood program for just one year, leading the team to an 8-18 record.
The so-called “home” Sanchez has returned to is Payson High, a school where he once played basketball, ran cross country and track, turned out for the baseball team his senior year and received his prep diploma.
Following his appointment as head coach, Sanchez said, “This is my home and I’m glad to be back; I’m excited.”
The new coach also issued a promise that he would do his best to put an end to the musical chairs parade of boys’ basketball coaches that has been low-lighted by five different head coaches in seven years.
“They might someday run me out of coaching, but I’m never leaving Payson,” he said. “I’m here to stay.”
Sanchez’s odyssey from Payson and his return began after graduating from Payson High in 2000. He almost immediately enrolled at Southwestern College, now Arizona Christian University, in Phoenix where he played basketball and majored in counseling.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 2004, he returned to Payson to become a youth pastor at Mountain Bible Church.
After leaving there in 2010, he was hired on as a counselor at Southwestern Behavioral Health where he now works.
Following his return to his hometown, he almost immediately caught the coaching bug working as freshman and junior varsity coach under former head coaches Kenny Hayes, Jarod Swanson and Goodwin.
He admits most of the time he coached underclassmen, he had his eye on someday clutching the head coaching reins.
“Coaching and basketball is my passion — it’s a huge passion,” he said.
Serving under a trio of coaches with distinctively different styles was a bit unsettling for him and for players, but it also had its advantages.
“I learned something from all of them and now I have the chance to put it all together as the head coach,” he said.
Among his first job responsibilities was to assemble a staff he could work with and one that would carry out his plans for rebuilding the program.
Among those Sanchez has selected are PHS teacher Ryan St. John, Jake Swartwood and Jack Murphy.
St. John will serve as freshman coach and a varsity assistant and Swartwood, a former Longhorn hoop star, has been chosen the jayvee coach. Murphy, who has coaching experience at Rim Country Middle School, will assist him.
“This is a good staff; we will work well together,” Sanchez said.
To be successful, rookie coaches must formulate a coaching philosophy and then sell it to the student-athletes and assistant coaches.
Sanchez says he has a philosophy in place and it centers on aggressiveness at both ends of the court.
“We want to attack on O and D,” he said. “We want to set the tone and put pressure on the other team.
“That’s something that hasn’t always been done (at Payson High) in the past.”
Sanchez’s strategy includes a fast break offense that runs to beat the other team down the floor, thus gaining a numerical advantage.
If the fast break isn’t there, however, his players will pull the ball back and run a set half-court offense.
“But one with a lot of freedom,” he said.
Defensively, the new coach anticipates playing mostly man-to-man, but will also install a zone press and a full court man-to-man press.
“Our defenses will be aggressive,” he promises.
Since taking over the program, Sanchez has been busy with off-season training including entering the team in a Sedona-based summer league.
Games are played each Tuesday for the next five weeks against fellow league members Mayer, Flagstaff, Coconino, Mingus and Bradshaw Mountain.
Sanchez also hosts open gym evening sessions for pickup games and skills practices. In those, he likes what he sees from his returning players.
“The effort is there and they are excited,” said Sanchez. “They play well together, trust one another and are usually hustling, diving on the floor after loose balls.”
New configuration for next season
Sanchez will face during the 2011-2012 season a challenge that none of his predecessors have had to deal with.
In fact, no high school coach in the state has faced the dilemma that involves the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s decision last year to do away with the conference-region alignment that had been in use for decades and replace it with a division-section configuration.
Just how the new system will affect basketball won’t be known until next season, but it obviously has done away with some of the age-old rivalries including those built up in the now defunct 3A East region.
For example, when the new configuration was finally settled on in the spring, Payson High was assigned in boys basketball to Division III, Section III.
Most of the Horns’ former rivals from the East are aligned in Division III, Section I.
Which means instead of playing the likes of Snowflake, Show Low, Blue Ridge and Round Valley as the Horns did when members of the East, PHS is now in the same section with Bourgade Catholic, Buckeye, River Valley, Wickenburg, Fountain Hills, Glendale Cortez and others.
Some of those fellow section members will have the advantage of much larger student bodies than Payson’s enrollment of 788.
The larger schools include Buckeye (1,206), Estrella Foothills (1,060) and Cortez (1,225).
At the end of the season, when the Horns advance past sectional to division or “state” competition, the team could face even larger schools including Apollo (1,842), Cactus Shadows (1,827), Bradshaw Mountain (1,731) and Copper Canyon (1,708).