TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - A professional basketball league in Indiana and a team in Terre Haute. It's something you don't hear every day, but It's become a reality thanks in part to Kent Benson.
The New Castle, Indiana native was an All-American basketball player at IU, he was on the undefeated 1976 Hoosiers National Champion team, and was the 1977 number one overall NBA draft pick. He's a legend, and he knows a thing or two about basketball. He's used that knowledge to create a professional basketball league right here in the Hoosier State.
It's called the Hoosier Heartwood Basketball Association, and it was created in the fall of 2020. News 10 spoke with Benson who is co-founder and chairman of the league, owner of a team and president of the league Bob Petty, and Director of Community Relations Garry Montgomery.
Here's the skinny: Right now, there are four teams. The league consists of the Southern Indiana Timberjacks located in Bedford, Indiana, the Pendleton Legends who feature former Butler basketball and NBA G-League player Kellen Dunham, a team out of New Castle, Indiana which is Benson's home, and, you guessed it, the Terre Haute Sharp-Shooters.
Players are paid anywhere from $500-$2,500 dollars a month plus bonuses. They also get percentages of jersey sales. Petty says they are incredibly excited about this league, and expansion is in the near future.
"We're just trying to take it slow especially with this first year and COVID," Petty said, "We just want to be sure that it's a successful league and make sure that it's manageable. We're being very selective with our owners--who we are choosing to be owners for each team. We just want to make sure that they are community-based and are doing it for the right reasons."
Benson says the league is looking to get 10 teams for next season. They've seen significant interest from cities around Indiana like Jeffersonville, Marion, and Fort Wayne.
So, why should you care here in Terre Haute? Well, the aforementioned Terre Haute Sharp-Shooters is a start. It features three former Terre Haute South players, two former Terre Haute North players, and even two players who went to Indiana State including General Manager and starting point guard Harry Marshall. Montgomery says people around Terre Haute have told him that this is a great opportunity for the community.
"In Terre Haute, there's such an interest," Montgomery explained, "I talk to people and they always want to know, 'when can I see it? Where can I see it?' Everywhere I go, the interest is there. People are just hungry for good basketball in Terre Haute."
Right now for the Sharp-Shooters, there are 20 players participating in inter-squad scrimmages at the Boys and Girls Club here in Terre Haute. In fact, one was played on Sunday, January 24th in front of just under 100 fans. It was an electric contest with the final score being 120-119 while featuring a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
A regular-season schedule isn't yet finalized for this season, but Petty says these 20 players will participate in an exhibition season and training camp through the middle of February. Then, 12 players will be chosen to participate in the season on March 1st.
The Sharp-Shooters are in action again this Sunday, February 21st at the Boys and Girls Club in Terre Haute. The inter-squad game tips off at 7 PM. You can get tickets online at www.mvpresults.com/thss or simply buy your tickets at the door.
One thing is for sure, Benson, Petty, and Montgomery all agree that this is exciting not only for Terre Haute but for the entire Hoosier State. They look to continue growing this professional basketball league and keep players who aim to play professionally in the United States and more specifically Indiana.