NBA player with Selma ties visits NYSP

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2003

Waiting in the stands at Wallace State Community College, 230 kids sat none too quietly.

The kids, participants in the National Youth Sports Project (NYSP), cast furtive glances to the door hoping to see the 6-foot-8 frame of Memphis Grizzlies forward Mike Batiste as he arrived at the gym.

Batiste, who was in Selma for his grandfather’s funeral, consented to visit the camp and speak with the kids Friday morning.

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When Batiste arrived, excitement was in the air.

He spoke to the players, took some questions and brought the house down with a 360-degree jam.

He closed his morning with the kids by signing autographs for as many as lined up with pen and paper.

“It was a big thing for these kids,” said Jeffrey Pope, who is in charge of the project. “I know that he was going through a loss and it shows a big heart for him to want to come out and give back to the community.”

Batiste, whose grandparents and mother both grew up in Selma, spoke with the kids about the importance of working hard to fulfill dreams.

It was a message close to the heart of the young man who has overcome many obstacles to make his own dreams come true.

Batiste suffered a devastating set-back after his senior year at Arizona State.

NBA officials found a tear in one of his knee ligaments at a pre-draft camp in Chicago.

He wasn’t drafted, but he didn’t give up.

He played a year in Belgium and a year in Italy before making it to the NBA last season.

“Everything is hard,” he said. “You’ve got to work hard.”

It was an important message to a group of kids, most of whom won’t get to be professional basketball players.

The NYSP stresses there’s more to life than basketball as well.

“The program is geared towards under-privileged areas. It’s geared towards helping kids become exposed to different things,” Pope said. “The fundamentals of basketball, the fundamentals of volleyball, we’re offering tae-kwon-do this summer, tennis and softball. The program just gives kids a chance to be exposed to different things.”

NYSP doesn’t limit itself to helping the players learn through sports. The program also teaches the children about things like drugs and alcohol, careers and health. The program teaches them to work for their goals.

As Selma High School coach Willie Maxey Jr., who works with the camp, told the children before Batiste spoke.

“All things are possible,” he said. “Dream big, think big.”