Batiste Haywood has a plan, a pretty good one at that.
Now, if only he can pull it off. It'll be a tough haul, like carrying a piano up 10 flights of stairs. But Haywood is basketball's Rocky. This guy can take a punch.
The Hammond grad is the new owner/head coach of the Gary Splash semi-pro basketball team. Forget the failures of previous owner Jay Bradford. Haywood has wiped the slate clean and will focus on creating an entertaining family environment at home games.
"A lot of people didn't know we existed," he said. "I told them the whole program is starting from scratch. I'm changing the name, changing the logo.
"I want us to appeal to everybody, from Munster to Valparaiso, not just Hammond and Gary."
Haywood is considering either the "Region Splash" or the "NWI Splash" for next season but at the moment is busily preparing for the Saturday game with the Indiana Diesel at the Civic Center.
It'll mark the first steps with that piano on his back.
Haywood hopes to hit one out of the park that night with some big promotions for the 5 p.m. tip-off.
Players will sign autographs from 4 to 4:45.
Orlando Magic star E'Twaun Moore, an East Chicago native, will be there to meet fans. Former Purdue defensive tackle and potential first-round draft pick Kawann Short, also from East Chicago, is a possibility.
The theme will be "Heroes" with first responders, veterans and servicemen being honored. Haywood also has invited area schools, churches and families looking for an inexpensive night out.
"If I have only 100 (fans) and they all tell someone about it afterward, I'll have 200 the next game," is Haywood's reasoning. "I'm prepared for whatever happens."
His team will get the word out by visiting area schools. Previous ownership didn't do that for whatever reason.
Haywood has held three practices the last three weeks — two at Embassies of Christ Ministries in Gary and one at Roosevelt High School. Space is that difficult to find.
"I'll go wherever they'll give me a gym," he said.
The Splash has one sponsor so far — Regina's Restaurant on Columbia Ave. — where you can meet players after home games and get 15 percent off by showing your ticket.
Haywood's roster features familiar names like Rob Eldridge (Wirt), DaShawn Wright (West Side), Torrence Hayes (Lew Wallace), Horace Bond (West Side), CJ Hampton (IU Northwest), Corderro Bennett (West Side) and 7-foot, 270-pound Reo Logan (Georgia State).
Of course, Haywood is always looking for talent.
The future offers hope with the new Premiere Basketball League-International Basketball Association merger, making it one of the largest professional leagues in minor league basketball.
"I look around at other successful teams and they're drawing 3,000 to 4,000 fans a home game," Haywood said. "The team in Stirling, Ill. gets 3,500 a game.
"If they can draw like that in Stirling, I know I can sell basketball in the region. I just have to go out and market it."
With all his good intentions, Batiste Haywood may be the team's last hope at moving that piano.
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