BY TOM LAVIS
After an outstanding college basketball career at Arizona State, Wun Versher thought that the last place he would end up would be with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Nicknamed “The Shot,” Versher and his teammates are bringing the basketball circus to Johnstown for a 7 p.m. March 11 game at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, 326 Napoleon St., Johnstown.
In his 18th season on a team that is instantly recognized worldwide, Versher said he loves the game, the antics and the crowds.
“But the best thing for me is what we do off the court in regard to being ambassadors of goodwill to youngsters,” Versher said in a telephone interview from Eugene, Ore.
“We visit schools to talk about issues such as bullying or staying in school to get an education, as well as hospitals to help uplift children.”
They also visit Boys & Girls Clubs and businesses while touring, and donate time and money to charities.
Becoming a goodwill ambassador seemed like a natural transition for the 6-foot-4-inch Versher, who grew up in Compton, Calif., and got picked by the Globetrotters right out of college.
Versher has been called one of the greatest shooters in Globetrotters’ team history.
The Harlem Globetrotters created the 4-point shot, 12-feet further distance than the NBA’s 3-point line. It’s a distance that is well within Versher’s range.
The 28 Globetrotters players are split into three squads that travel the world.
“I have been in 63 countries,” Versher said. “We play a game every day and sometimes nine times a week with doubleheaders on the weekends.”
After being on the road for 18 seasons, Versher said he understands the importance of eating right and staying healthy.
Versher said he wants to continue the good work the Globetrotters have done during the past 87 years.
“The Globetrotters broke down race barriers dating back to the days of segregation,” he said. “I have a sense of pride and appreciation for the struggles those early players had to overcome.”
Versher has been a part of some of the organization’s most memorable moments.
He was present during the Globetrotters’ induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and was a member of the group that visited Vatican City in Rome in 2000 to name Pope John Paul II an honorary Harlem Globetrotter.
“I recently met and played basketball with President Obama at the White House,” Versher said. “He has a good left-handed jump shot.”
Versher admitted that there wasn’t much body contact when defending the president.
“Nobody really touched him,” he quipped.
But Versher’s No. 1 highlight of his career was meeting another world leader, Nelson Mandela, who was president of South Africa at the time.
“It was like going home for me,” Versher said. “I read so much about Nelson Mandela and the struggles he endured. It was an honor to meet him.”
Versher also has appeared with the Globetrotters on popular television programs such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “EXTRA,” and “Access Hollywood.”
He even taught some ball-handling moves to pop superstar Justin Bieber before a television appearance in Hollywood.
He implores kids to navigate a steady course, telling them to do whatever they want, “but be prepared to work hard for it.”
Who: Harlem Globetrotters.
Where: Cambria County War Memorial Arena, 326 Napoleon St., Johnstown.
When: 7 p.m. March 11.
Tickets: At box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 800-745-3000 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.
Cost: $14, $19, $25, $38, plus fees.
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