BKB Porter Flake

Senior Porter Flake is one of four players returning with significant varsity experience.

Joe Sanchez spent five seasons as Payson’s varsity boys basketball head coach before stepping down following the 2015-16 season to spend more time with his family.

“My biggest reason for leaving was my son, Cadyn” he said. “I was missing all his sports and what he was doing.”

But he also spent those three years building a foundation for future varsity basketball success.

And now he’s back to run the program.

Sanchez returns as the varsity head coach, replacing Denver White.

“I took time off to help build the middle school program,” Sanchez said. “The job was open again and I was excited to come back because we were excited with what we built with the middle school program.”

Sanchez spent the 2016-17 season as the eighth-grade coach running the Rim Country Middle School program. He left Jon Hatch and Danny Rensch to run it and he and Dustin Stroopes started a fifth- and sixth-grade club basketball team, as their sons were both in the fifth grade.

So after two years establishing that club, Sanchez feels everything is in place as a feeder system to the varsity.

“Jon Hatch is now my varsity assistant and Danny Rensch is taking care of the middle school program,” he said. “We feel we have a complete staff from fifth grade all the way to seniors changing the culture of basketball in Payson and we’re excited about it.”

When Sanchez was the varsity head coach, the RCMS teams weren’t connected to the high school program like he says they are now.

“We didn’t have the middle school program running what the high school program was doing,” he said. “We have that now in place through fifth grade. Even in town basketball, we have all teams running the same offense, running the same drills and the goal is when they go from middle school to the freshman team, we’re running the same offense, basically. It’s showing especially in our freshman group right now. In the past we’d be starting over with our freshmen, but now you can tell it’s made a difference.”

The Longhorns open the season at home at 6:30 tonight against Camp Verde following the 5 o’clock varsity girls game.

The roster features four returning players who saw significant varsity action last year in seniors Porter Flake, Trevor Flores and Will Howell and junior Hunter Lee. The roster also includes seniors Hunter Ferguson, Tyler Hillman and Josh Wright; juniors Colton Justice, Aden Ruiz, Tony Tinnin and Bridger Harger; sophomore Easton Redford and freshman Jack O’Grady.

“We’re trying to change the culture and make boys basketball a priority,” Sanchez said. “It’s gonna take some time. This year might be a very difficult year. A lot of these players aren’t used to my coaching style and they’re adapting to it. We’re excited about the direction boys basketball is heading.”

Jason Redford returns as the JV head coach and varsity assistant. Ty Davis is the freshman head coach.

Two graduates from last year’s team, Gunner Nanty and Tanner Mansoor, are helping as “interns” coaching the younger players.

Sanchez said he wouldn’t be back as the head coach without the support of his wife, Julia Randall Elementary physical education teacher Mandie Sanchez.

He’s going to make time for his family even with the demands of running a high school program.

“A couple of practices a week we’re going in the morning and the guys are OK with it because on those days coach Sanchez gets to be with his family,” he said.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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