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Crater girls basketball players need look no further than down the bench this winter to gain instant inspiration.
Ready to offer advice will be new Comets assistant Amy Denson, whose passion for hoops led her to Division I Arizona State and later to professional stops in Australia, Romania, Spain, Poland and Puerto Rico.
Denson, a former Comet standout, will work alongside her old coach, David Heard. He takes over coaching duties from J.T. Thomas.
Landing an assistant like Denson was a huge victory, Heard said, especially considering their winning history together and Denson's complicated living situation.
Denson, who most recently played in Spain, will soon move to Arizona with her boyfriend. Regardless of the opportunities that arise there, she said she's committed to returning to the Rogue Valley this winter.
It's a leap of faith that she's willing to take, she said.
"Some of my best times were at Crater," Denson said. "That is where everything started. It was such an amazing time in my life and to come back and give back and create a good experience for girls, it's just such a positive way to give back."
Said Heard: "It was pretty neat. I knew it was a long shot. I knew she would be in Arizona but I thought I would give it a shot. I needed a strong female."
The 29-year-old Denson proved to be strong — both in talent and durability — during her long career.
In 2002, the 6-foot-1 post was named the high school player of the year. She finished as Crater's all-time leading scorer with 1,326 points before becoming a four-year starter at ASU. The Sun Devils lost to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 her junior season and made the NCAA tournament again her senior year, falling in the second round.
Denson and her teammates took on Diana Taurasi and powerhouse Connecticut her sophomore year.
In a 2005 Mail Tribune article, ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said of Denson: "She's an intense young lady. Sometimes I have to yell out at her, 'Amy, take a breath!'"
A few months after graduating with a communications degree in 2006, Denson played in Puerto Rico. After taking a short break, she resumed play there and then competed in Poland, Romania and Australia. In Australia, she played with and against Olympians.
She most recently competed in Spain, where she wrapped up in March.
Denson would often only get a week or two of rest in between seasons, but the grind had its rewards: she made between $3,000 and $6,000 a month, tax free, and received free housing and travel.
"I think anybody who knows me knows I am very competitive person," Denson said. "I wanted to try out in any of the best leagues I could. I got extremely lucky with my body holding up as long as it did and being able to play back-to-back seasons so long. That alone kept me in shape. It was just the love of the game and being competitive."
Are her playing days over?
"I don't ever want to make a solid statement," she said. "I am interested in so many things. I was thinking about going back to Puerto Rico for one more season. I would ultimately like to end my career there because it was such a positive and happy place. I played in this small town called Morovis and loved it."
Denson hopes her experience benefits the newest collection of Comets.
"I just think having someone who has played at the Division I level and professionally, you take their advice more seriously, especially if it is something they aspire to do someday," she said. "Having a woman on staff helps them. I can relate to them."
The decision to pursue Denson was a no-brainer for Heard — he trusted her as a baby-sitter for his daughters Monica and Mallory when they were younger.
Now Denson will help to coach those same girls.
"She is a fabulous role model for girls in general," Heard said. "The kids love her and that happened immediately."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com