Batiste Haywood loves basketball.
Wait. That's not strong enough.
Batiste Haywood loves basketball like Hollywood loves Botox.
The 1998 Hammond grad is the new owner/head coach of the Gary Splash semi-pro basketball team. He takes over for Jay Bradford, who held both titles and is leaving to start a team in Las Vegas.
According to Haywood, most of the franchise fees for the Splash's current 16-game winter league season have been paid by Bradford.
But the best news is the recent merger of the Premiere Basketball League and the International Basketball Association, to which the Splash belongs.
The new PBL-IBA is now billed as one of the largest professional leagues in minor league basketball and will take effect this spring season.
Haywood, who played professionally overseas, will need all the energy he can muster to make the region accept the struggling Splash as legitimate entertainment given its brief, spotty history.
Media relations were nonexistant under the old regime. Rosters and schedules were incomplete and not updated. The web site was a joke.
The team previously played its home games at the Gary Genesis Center, but that partnership ended because of unpaid bills.
Crowds were scarce, resulting in little or no media coverage. To be blunt, no one cared.
It's now Haywood's job to make the Splash relevant.
"I'll market it better because a lot of people didn't even know it was there," he said. "I have no trouble getting better local players."
The PBL-IBA will continue as an exposure league, giving former college standouts an opportunity to possibly to be signed by the NBA Developmental League or invited to play overseas.
"This is my first time doing this," Haywood said. "We'll start off rocky but next season will be better."
The Splash will need sponsorship and strong fan support before players can hope to earn the league rate of $100 to $200 a game in the near future.
"I try to feed them after every game, every practice," Haywood said, the money coming from his pocket.
Thursday night, the Splash played in Rochester, New York. They didn't fly there. They took two vans for the 10-hour drive.
Saturday night, they had a game at the Embassies of Christ Church in Gary, their home court. The team also practices at Hammond High and the Gary YMCA.
Haywood is working to bring games back to the Genesis Center and possibly the Hammond Civic Center in the future.
Helping to absorb the operating costs is revenue from Haywood's "Developing Individual Basketball Skills" --- DIBS Northwest -- training center at 3635 West Ridge Road, Suite C.
"That's my living so I can piggyback it with the team," he said.
There are plans and goals for the Splash, like possibly dropping "Gary" to give it a wider region appeal.
"There's a lot of talent here," Haywood said. "This is an opportunity for them to be seen and get their name out there.
"They love me, respect me, so they play hard for me."
But that won't put butts in the seats. It all starts with marketing, the right way.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com