Dennis Peterson: “He Knows Basketball”
by Carey Meitzler
If you have been following Maroon Tide basketball for the past twenty years, you are well aware of
the success the program has achieved under the direction of Coach Dean Shaw. Shaw has amassed
491 wins, captured a couple of South State titles, prepared many players to go on to play college ball
and one (Jonathan Bender) to the NBA. In 1999, Shaw made a move that not only strengthened
his boys program, but has set the wheels in motion to create a sound varsity girls basketball program.
The move? He convinced his long time friend and fellow Hancock North Central alumnus Dennis
Peterson to come out of retirement and help him with the Maroon Tide basketball program.
“I had retired after 25 years and figured I had put in enough time for basketball. Well, right after
I retired at the end of the school year, Coach Shaw contacted me about coming to work with him here
at Picayune. I figured I'd give it a try and see what happens. Then, they talked me into taking the girls.
It's been a real challenge, but a fun challenge,” said Dennis Peterson on recalling his return to the coach-
ing ranks at Picayune Memorial High School.
So how did Peterson, known by most as Coach Pete, get into coaching? Peterson describes how the
decision came about.
“Growing up in a basketball community like Coach Shaw and I did in Hancock and playing for a
coach like Coach (Roland) Ladner, going to the State Tournament 2 out of my 3 years in high school,
and understanding the game fairly well as a player, it motivated me to want to become a coach. When
I got to college, I had to make a decision on what I wanted to do. I wasn't good enough to play college
basketball, but I felt like I was good enough and knew enough to become a coach.”
Peterson is #40 on front row; Coach Roland Ladner is second all time in Mississippi winningest coaches with 867 victories.
Peterson was a standout in both basketball and football at Hancock North Central. He played on the
1968-69 Hawk team that posted a 30-9 record and won the South Mississippi Class "A" championship.
He was a quarterback on the football team. After completing his studies at Pearl River Junior College
and the University of Southern Mississippi, Coach Pete landed his first head coaching job in Carriere
in the mid 1970s.
“My first year coaching in high school, I was coaching girls basketball at Pearl River Central and we
were district runner-up and made it to the first round of the South State playoffs. It was a very motivating
experience for me getting a taste of success early on. I was lucky.”
Today, many of his current and former players hold Coach Pete in high regard. It appears that each has
gleaned something from their assistant coach. Donairies “Deno” Hair, a 6-8 junior center, who hadn't played
much basketball until a few years ago, says Peterson has really helped him.
“He has taught me to always know where everybody else is before you post up. That way you can position
yourself to score. He and Coach Shaw have really helped me.”
Radale Brumfield, a senior guard, says that Coach Pete is always pointing out things to make you better.
“When we win, he's happy, but he makes you see the mistakes you made, too. When you lose, he's pretty much
the same. Correct the mistakes.” When asked what it might have been like to line-up against Peterson as a
player, Brumfield stated, “I bet he was a good defensive player. He's always talking about how he used to bust
people up on defense when he played. He knows about taking charges, blocking out. He knows basketball.”
Manny Jackson, a sophomore guard, says that Coach Pete knows a lot about offense as well.
“He knows the exact play to run at the exact time.”
Joey Daly, a 2003 Picayune graduate and former player now playing at Rhodes College, says that playing
at Picayune taught him a lot.
“Patience and attention to detail. He emphasized the importance of doing the little things, hustling and work-
ing hard to win. If you wanted to run Coach Pete's offenses you had to be patient, and wait for things to develop.
Everything was detailed and everyone had a job to do, whether scoring, setting picks, or locking down defensively.”
What Shaw and Peterson have put together at Picayune is not your normal high school playbook. In fact, it is
much, much more. Peterson describes the system he and Shaw have implemented like this.
“In the five years I have worked with Coach Shaw, we have developed over 40 plays against man to man defense.
We have about 30 different sets we run against zone defenses. We have over 30 out of bounds plays we run. Now,
that seems like a lot for the kids to learn, but we believe they can learn it and they do. It takes about two years for a
kid to learn our offense. There aren't many other high school teams that have near that many, in fact, not many colleges
have that many. We believe that if you don't show a lot of different sets, good teams will eventually figure out what
you're doing if they are watching film on you and eventually they will be able to stop some of this stuff. Same way
with defense, we play man, zone, and some combination defenses with our match-up zone; a lot of different sets. We
have to do that because we don't ever have kids that can just go out and score 30-40 points a game.”
So where do you think Peterson comes up with a lot of the ideas that he and Coach Shaw use at Picayune? Well,
according to one of his sons, (Dennis,Jr.) it comes from a tube. A television tube, that is, showing a college basketball
“He (dad) doesn't just watch a game; he analyzes it. He is always looking at what someone does and when it is
successful, he writes it down and begins thinking how he can put it to use right away.” And what does he write it on?
If it will hold ink, it works according to Coach Pete.
“I will write on just about anything I can get my hands on, “ says Coach Pete laughing. “ When I see something I
like (in a game), I grab anything. The back of pictures, just something. I have to write it down the moment I see it.”
Coach Pete explains this approach. “I'm one of these guys that believes in taking something that works for other
people that's pretty good and adding to it to make it better.”
Since Peterson has taken over the varsity girls program, the Lady Tide has made a tremendous turnaround. This
season, the Lady Tide has a legitimate shot at making the state playoffs. He is quick to point out that it's not just
himself that has contributed to the turnaround.
“I can't say enough about Coach (Brian) Dees. He's really a great help. A great person, a great motivator, he just
keeps things going. I tell you, without him, I'd be lost.”
So what's the secret in being able to turn the Lady Tide into a proven winner in just two years ? Coach Pete says
it wasn't easy, but the approach was a very straightforward one.
“With the girls, one thing you have to do is really get them to believe they can win. That's the first thing. They
were used to not being a force on the floor, just laying back and playing the game just to play the game. Coach Dees
and I really got into their head they could be winners. And we have a good group of girls. They really work hard and
they are dedicated. The biggest thing is their practice habits. That's really got ‘em in gear.”
Overall, the Lady Tide is a young team with just three seniors. The talent pool seems to be steady for years to come.
“We feel real fortunate in having three, maybe four girls that could play college basketball in either Division I or
community college. I'm real pleased with the way it's going right now. They are really hungry to win. They know what
it's like to win now.”
This past week, the Lady Tide defeated the 12th ranked Harrison Central Red Rebels and Peterson was quoted as
saying it was the biggest win of his coaching career.
“First off, I want to correct that. The win over Harrison Central was my biggest win as the girls coach at Picayune.
It meant a lot to our program to play like we did and beat them. But it was probably not the biggest win I've had as a
So what does Coach Pete consider his biggest win as a head coach? We have to go back to his days coaching at
Hancock when his team pulled off the accomplishment.
“I would have to say that my biggest win as a head coach came when I was coaching boys at Hancock around 1985.
We were the number 5 seed in the district tournament. We beat the number 4 seed, then beat George County , the number
one seed in the semi-finals. We surprised everybody.“
Coach Pete is involved with coaching four teams at Picayune. He coaches the 9th grade boys, junior varsity boys,
the Lady Tide (varsity girls), and assists Coach Shaw with the Maroon Tide (varsity boys). That's a lot of basketball on
any given day.
“I have the varsity girls during third period. Then starting at 1:30pm (4th period), Coach Shaw and I have the varsity
boys and we sometimes may go until 5:00 or 5:30. We have the JV boys during this same period. Then usually around
5:30, I have the 9th grade boys. It makes for a long day, but it's worth it.”
Does it take a different approach coaching each of the teams ? Coach Pete thinks so, particularly comparing the way
boys and girls respond to certain aspects of the game.
“With the 9th grade, you have to take what works with the varsity and make sure they learn how to do it. The main
thing is to know your personnel and know what they can do, get them in the right place so you can get the most out of
them. The girls, believe it or not, can remember plays better than boys. I can teach the girls set plays and somehow it
sticks in their head better. On defense, it's different. Boys are quicker and more agile and can make up for a lot of their
mistakes. We keep it simple in the JV boys' games so the varsity team we're playing that night can't pick up on what we
might be doing at the varsity level. We do just enough that we think we can win. In practice, they (JV boys) get a chance
to learn everything just like the varsity. We work a lot on fundamentals with the JV team. Over the years, it's really paid
off. I think we've only lost like five JV games in the last five years.”
When asked what they thought Coach Pete would do if he wasn't a basketball coach, one current Tide player said that
Peterson would either play or coach golf all the time. Another pondered that he might be on the PGA Tour if he had more
time to play. Peterson chuckled and responded with a slight twist of the player's prediction.
“Well, once Amanda (Mathis) makes it on the professional golf tour, I'd like to be her caddy”. He was referring to
Amanda Mathis the former Tide golfer, a Mississippi Amateur champion, who is now walking the fairways at Mississippi
Denny #15, Coach Pete on the far right at Hancock High School
Denny Peterson (Dennis, Jr.) appears to be following in the footsteps of his father. Denny is currently doing his student
teaching/coaching at Picayune with his father. He is learning basketball from the elder Peterson and Coach Shaw. He is
also spending time with the Tide baseball team assisting Coach Kent Kirkland's staff. So what does Coach Pete think about
Denny deciding to pursue a career as a coach?
“I coached him in high school at Hancock. He was my sixth man coming off the bench and he started some games as well.
He really enjoys the game. He's been around me enough now to get an understanding of what it takes to coach basketball.
His first love is baseball. He was a good pitcher in high school and really enjoys baseball. He's very knowledgeable when
it comes to baseball. I think he's one of these guys who could coach a lot of sports. Hopefully some of it is rubbing off on him.”
To those who know him well, Coach Dean Shaw is not a man of many words. He goes about his business and lets the
results of his labor speak for itself. With a warm and sincere smile, Shaw summed up coaching with Peterson like this.
“Coach Pete has brought patience and knowledge on the offensive end for us. He just loves coaching basketball."
"The early years" at Picayune Jr High 1982