BILLINGS -- A variety of explosive play-makers have kicked into the quick boys basketball start at Billings Skyview. But one of the spark plugs helping lead that charge is junior guard Payton Sanders.
It doesn't matter if he's canning 3-pointers, assisting, lobbing alley-oops or locking guys down on defense, Sanders is fun to watch and seemingly always active.
"I just want to be as intense as I can and get in your face, make you be as uncomfortable as you can as a defender," Sanders told MTN Sports after a recent win over Billings Senior.
"He's just a special player," Falcons head coach Kevin Morales said. "I mean, to be the only junior in that major senior role and to take it like he has? And to be developed like that, his body control is some of the best I've ever seen and I've coached a lot of good guards."
Defensively, Sanders is that fly in the ointment -- constantly disrupting set plays. Offensively, he's a little more like Magic and the 80s Showtime Lakers delivering seamless no-look passes. And not just once in a while.
"He does them in practice, too, so it's not like he's just pulling them out in games just to surprise people," Morales said with a smile.
Earlier this month, Sanders and Camron Ketchum combined for 59 points in a 21-point crosstown win over Billings West. The 4-1 Falcons' next action is Thursday night in a showdown at 4-1 Great Falls High.
Sanders didn't fall far from the family tree. His dad, Ben, a standout years ago at Colstrip High School, then at Rocky Mountain College, delivered that same toughness on both ends of the court. Payton said sometimes he'll dig into those archives and watch a little vintage video of dad running the court.
Asked how much fun they have on the side with a little rivalry hoops, Sanders replied with a grin, "I kind of get the best of him now, he's getting a little old."
A couple years ago, Sanders was actually the first freshman called up to varsity by Morales.
"His overall body control is impressive and his handle. And when you look in his eyes, it's just that type of fierce competitiveness that you don't see very often," Morales said.
Here's how Sanders remembers the call-up:
"I was ready, the original story was he moved me up to sophomore for two games. And after those two games -- I scored 30ish in each -- he moved me up to JV, and from there I just started swinging (to varsity)."
Sanders said his guy in the NBA is Portland's Damian Lillard, who made the leap from Weber State in the Big Sky Conference to franchise player and NBA All-Star. If that's what the opposition must guard against this year and next, it's not a very fun thought. Unless you're just there to watch.