This article also appears on Yahoo! Sports.
Those attending Harlem Globetrotter games this year will notice a new player that’s, well, a little different than the rest of the team.
That’s because Jacob Tucker is a 5-foot-10 white guy on a squad known for giant African-American players like its most famous former star, Wilt Chamberlain.
“Everybody that came up to me, it was a little joke, they always asked if I was on the Washington Generals or the Globetrotters,” Tucker said earlier this week in reference to the infamous opponent that has historically served as the Globetrotters’ personal doormat.
“I kind of look like the ball boy when I walk into places, and I understand that because not only am I short but I’m pretty young looking still,” said the 23-year old. “Whenever I walk into a place with all my teammates that are 6’5”, 6’6”, I look like the ball boy. But my goal is, whenever all those people leave the arena, they know I’m not.”
Tucker will get his first chance to do that the day after Christmas when he debuts with the team at The Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons.
It’s just the latest turn in Tucker’s meteoric rise that started when the then-senior guard at Division III Illinois College and his friends put a video of Tucker using his mind-boggling 50-inch vertical for an array of ridiculous dunks on YouTube last March.
The goal? Gain admission to the college slam dunk contest before Final Four weekend. With his head almost touching the rim on dunks, the clip went viral (it currently has over 4.6 million views on YouTube). It led to national media coverage and Tucker not only competed in the contest, he wowed the judges such as NBA legend Karl Malone and won it.
Not bad for a guy no one had ever heard of nine months ago.
But make no mistake, Tucker was no scrub. Last season he finished second at Illinois College in scoring (14.8 PPG) with plans to become a strength coach after graduation. That’s when YouTube propelled him from DIII player to internet star in the course of just one month. And just when it appeared Tucker’s 15-minutes of fame was up after commercial shoots and throwing out the first pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox, the Globetrotters drafted him in June.
With the team’s U.S. tour set to begin Dec. 26, Tucker is finally ready for action. He will spend Christmas morning with his family and then fly to Detroit for his debut the following day.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Tucker said. “I think it’s going to be an experience I’ll never forget, my first game wearing the Globetrotter uniform. I’ve been with Slick (former St. John’s player Willie Shaw) all day today. All day he’s said his most memorable experience was his first game. It’s something he never forgot, the atmosphere, the excitement on all the fans’ faces.”
Speaking from Wisconsin earlier this week while doing publicity for the team, Tucker even sounds more like a ball boy than a pro basketball player with his soft voice and “ah shucks” attitude, saying over and over again that the Globetrotters’ goal is for everyone to leave the arena with a smile on their face.
And while some players only use the Globetrotters as a pit stop on the way to what they believe will be a more lucrative career overseas or in the NBA, Tucker intends to play for the Globetrotters “as long as I can.” Nicknamed “Hops” on the team’s website, Tucker said he is also prepared for a grinding schedule that goes almost all year-round and will have him living out of hotels and playing six or seven nights a week.
Though one YouTube clip has changed his life forever, Tucker says he’s still the same person he was before he shot to internet fame and hopes that comes across in his new job.
“I like to think I’m the exact same person I was a year ago,” Tucker said. “And I think that’s really important, especially being a Globetrotter now; how you portray that to younger kids, how you handle things with humility and just show them you don’t want to give up on your dreams, always have hope and believe in yourself and don’t listen when people tell you you can’t do something.”
And who better to tell them than Tucker?
Photo courtesy of Harlem Globetrotters International, Inc.
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