Yannick Denson, the 16th head coach in Howard Payne Lady Jackets basketball history, was introduced to those who attended a meet and greet at the Mabee Center Friday.
Denson comes Howard Payne after winning a TAPPS state basketball championship at Legacy Christian Academy in Beaumont, helping Westbury Christian Academy in Houston to the state championship game and one season as an assistant at UT-Rio Grande Valley.
“I'm truly blessed to be here,” Denson said in his opening remarks. “The opportunity to be at Howard Payne University is kind of overwhelming. To be around a small Christian environment, a family environment, that makes a big difference for me. My most successful years were at Legacy Christian Academy in Beaumont, where I had the same kind of family feel and Christian environment. I'm very privileged to be part of the HPU family now.”
Denson was hired in late-May after the resignation of Meia Daniels-Netter after five seasons, where she comprised an 80-53 overall record with American Southwest Conference West Division titles in 2016 and 2017.
“I'm extremely excited about the passion and enthusiasm he's going to bring to our university holistically,” Howard Payne Athletic Director Hunter Sims said during his introduction of Denson. “Everyone that met with him on his interview was extremely impressed. He definitely won the job hands down in a statewide and nationwide search.
“Yannick is definitely a man of faith and has a strong integrity and a spiritual Christian influence in his life. I'm encouraged to see how he's going to put that imprint on our women's basketball team.”
Sims stated Denson was highly recommended for the job by UT-Rio Grande Valley head coach Larry Tidwell, who Denson worked for as a student assistant during Tidwell’s final four years at Lamar in Beaumont from 2009-13.
“Anyone who knows anything about women's basketball, whether it's the high school ranks or college ranks, knows Larry Tidwell is one of the most respected coaches in the state of Texas,” Sims said.
Denson added, “Knowing that I had one of the most legendary coaches in college and high school in the state of Texas behind me made a difference.”
With his hiring taking place after the conclusion of the spring semester, Denson has yet to meet several of the returning Lady Jackets face to face.
“My first thing is to meet the players and lay down some team rules and philosophies that we're going to obey and go by the entire year, in and out of season,” Denson said. “We want to represent HPU in the best way possible.”
Addressing the style of play he will implement with the Lady Jackets, Denson said, “We're going to be fast paced, we're going to be up tempo, we're going to get up and down the floor. There's going to be a lot of pressing and making people uncomfortable. I like to put my players in situations where they're ahead of the curve. If girls are not doing something that they practice, then they're probably not going to do it right the first time, or the second time or the third time.
“When it comes to basketball, it's not a big game because we're playing ETBU or McMurry or whoever. It's a big game because it's the next game, and we're going to keep that motto all year long.”
Denson also spoke about what he looks for when recruiting players.
“My first thing that I look for in a recruit is being a great student, and at the same time I want them to be really good people,” Denson said. “Life after basketball does exist, so them having and developing great traits about life is more important. I want to teach them about adversity and what it's like to be under pressure before it happens. These are things that were drilled into me as a young man growing up in church and around different sports.”
Denson addressed his faith and the journey that led him to Howard Payne as well.
“My faith started when I was kid,” Denson said. “I was walking to church, about two blocks, as an 8-year-old with my friends from my neighborhood. It was always kind of strange because my family didn't always have that spiritual connection but I was the one that broke the levee for my family. Going through that process, I seemed to pray for things that never came to light. You learn about patience, you learn about walking a path that you may not think is right, but it's right by Him. I kept that will me all the way through high school.
“When I had my first major injury is when I really turned it over and began my walk of faith. A testimony for me, I lost a Division I scholarship sliding into second base on a bad field. It was rough and the only way I found a little bit of light in life was going to the Word, studying the Word, believing and having faith. From there, I just started praying and seeing things change. Without going through what I went through, I wouldn't be standing here today.”
Denson also talked about the players that will be part of the Lady Jacket program and the importance of focusing on their futures after basketball is over.
“I like to bring in women of power to show these young women that you're not just a basketball player, you have influences on the community and younger kids because of the things you do and the way you carry yourself,” Denson said. “Being raised by all women made even more of an impact in my life so I know women have power. With everything in life, women can have power, just as much as a man. Whether it's a councilwoman, firefighters, police officers, former basketball players, any woman of power that has done something and kept driving forward in life, those are the kind of women I like the young ladies on my team to be around so they can see that they just aren't basketball players, you are a woman and a woman of power.”