Troy Drummond took over the reins of the Howard Payne Yellow Jacket basketball program on an interim basis last season, and his performance — as well as the team’s — earned the former assistant the full time job as he attempts to get HPU back in postseason contention.

Howard Payne (7-18, 7-14 in ASC last season) starts its campaign this weekend against two American Southwest Conference foes in non-conference action at the Fred Jacoby Tip Off Classic in Tyler. The Jackets will face UT-Dallas at 5:30 today and meet UT-Tyler at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Drummond is aided by the return of six guards from last year’s squad, which split its final six games of the 2009 campaign.

“The stability of the program, the players knowing what’s going on, really helps this year,” said Drummond, who added he preferred to have his most experienced players on the outside. “Last year our experience was inside with three seniors, and our inexperience was on the outside. It’s just the opposite this year. The freshmen and sophomores last year that got quality minutes will benefit us this year. A lot of inside players are freshmen, but if I had my choice I’d rather have it the way it is this year with the experience on the outside.”

Among the returnees for the Yellow Jackets are senior Keith Perry, junior Zane Smith and sophomores Brandon Irwin, Henry Valladares, Quentin Calloway and Brit Campbell.

“Zane played every game last year, pretty close to every minute, and gave us a spark, while Keith transferred in from Schreiner last year and gave us shooting depth and good rebounding,” Drummond said. “Brandon was the freshman of the year and got a great amount of experience, while Quentin last year gave us good minutes and that spark off bench you need sometimes.

“Brit always knew what to do, he just needed some experience against good players and he got that. Henry, being one of the older guys last year, felt like he had to give us more. This year, with the experience around him, it will allow him to stay within his game.”

Two more guards with previous experience within the program are returning after a one-year hiatus — juniors Brock Woods and John Bryant.

“Brock is coming back into our program and that’s a huge plus for us,” Drummond said. “He gives you versatility to bring the ball down and also post up.”

Newcomers on the Yellow Jacket roster include senior transfer Ronald Wright at forward, freshmen centers Daniel Bubel and Brian Hommel, freshmen forwards Joshua Dada and Kanyon Payne, and freshmen guards Mike Thompson, Aaron Bass, Ross Whittet and Grant Young.

“Kanyon Payne is a 6-6 inside rebounder that’s able to step out and score, and he should be able to help this year as he picks up what we’re doing,” Drummond said. “Joshua Dada is a very good athlete, one of our most athletic players, and a very good rebounder and shot blocker. Those are his strengths and we’re going to take what he does best and move it into our system. Daniel Bubel, as he picks up what we’re doing, he’ll become more and more of a factor as well.

“We’ve got some young guards on our team that are also very good, but that’s where our strength and experience are so it’s going to be hard for them to break in with a lot of playing time. But they’re getting great experience in practice and going to help us in the future.”

Drummond stated the offensive and defensive philosophies will change very little for the Yellow Jackets this season.

“We’re going to be running our motion offense against the man, and we’ll the run same type of offense against the zone that we did last year. That stuff won’t change,” Drummond said. “The guys know the system pretty well, especially the returners. It’s not a hard system to learn, so that helps our newcomers.

“Defensively, our 2-3 zone is our bread and butter. We’re more athletic this year and deeper than last year, and that allows us to do a few more things defensively. We don’t necessarily have to sit back in a zone and watch them shoot, we can get out on them a little more and apply a little bit more pressure because we have help in the middle.”

The area where Drummond feels the Yellow Jackets need to improve most to compete for an ASC tournament berth is on the defensive glass.

“Defensive rebounding has to be our biggest improvement,” Drummond said. “Last year, with the exception of a couple of games, we were in every game until the end. We just let the other teams get too many offensive rebounds. If we can correct that, that gives us a lot more opportunities to win and our newcomers can help us with that.

“I also want to see our team grow the way we feel they can. We need the guys we have now to play the way they are capable of and have the new guys match that level.”

Though the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish sixth in the ASC West — the top four teams advance to the conference tournament — reaching the ASC tournament is unquestionably HPU’s goal this season.

“Making the conference tournament is our first goal, making the NCAA tournament is our second and winning the national championship is third,” Drummond said. “We want to be in the conference tournament. You can’t get to the NCAA tournament without getting in the conference tournament.

“We’d also like to get 20 wins, which is the goal of every program, but with 15 teams in our conference that’s going to be pretty hard.”