Although it’s early in the 2012-13 boys hoop season, at least three teams have emerged that could stand in the Longhorns’ way of winning Payson High’s second state basketball championship.
Florence, Gilbert Christian and Cortez High School are all unbeaten and at first glimpse, appear to have the talent to make a run at a state title.
But only time will tell if they are as good as advertised and actually are teams PHS must beat to advance to basketball’s promised land.
Florence is tagged among the favorites mostly because the team opened on a tear, steamrolling Casa Grande, San Tan Foothills and Superior.
The Gophers are rendered doubly tough by the presence of 6-foot-10-inch senior center Jeremy Verhagen who is averaging more than 20 points and 14 rebounds per game. Verhagen recently signed a letter of intent to play next year
at Grand Canyon University.
Verhagen was a first-team All-3A South Region selection during his sophomore year and a first-team All-Division III-Section II choice as a junior. Last season, he was named to the second-team All-State Division III squad and was the Gophers’ most valuable player, averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
Gavin Wood a 6-foot-3-inch junior who plays on the wing is equally talented, also averaging 20-plus points per game.
Dutch Perryman, a University of Arizona graduate, who lettered four years in track and field for the Wildcats, coaches the Gophers.
Gilbert Christian made headlines last season winning the Division III state title and opening this year with a 4-0 record that includes an 83-47 win over Fountain Hills and a 63-58 victory against a good Valley Christian team.
GC sports plenty of length with Mark Ford and Sam Jones, both 6 feet, 7 inches, on the roster. Jones leads the team in scoring averaging 30.3 ppg. Shooting guard Dylan Bliss, a co-captain along with Jones, is 6 feet, 5 inches and averages almost 15 points per game.
Gilbert Christian is so dominating in D-III that there are those who contend the team should move up to Division I, including its coach Jerome Joseph, who also coaches Attitude Dream, an elite club team.
Valley area parochial schools have a big advantage over small rural schools, like Payson, because they can draw athletes from a huge population base and there are no attendance boundaries as public schools have.
It appears GC is making full use of that advantage.
Cortez is the surprise of the front runners and has started 4-0, but will remain a contender only as long as the team continues to win. Cortez has big wins this season over Northwest Christian, Glendale and Washington.
Cortez is currently on top thanks in part to the scoring of 5-foot-8-inch senior guard Jarrell Smith who averages almost 28 ppg.
Smith is said to be a good penetrator and a long-range threat. This season, he’s hit 17 of 37 three-point attempts.
Cortez, like the other two front runners, has a big man on the roster in the form of 6-foot-9-inch junior Matt Drannbauer.
Although he is not much of a scoring threat, he can rebound, defend and give the Colts a good sized presence in the low blocks.
If the Horns are to make a run deep into the playoffs, the team will most likely need to find a way to play on even terms with the big three, especially Gilbert Christian.