By Richard Wilkinson
On Monday, Nov. 19, the CUA men’s basketball team will play probably the toughest team they’ve ever played, says Coach Michael Lonergan — a team that has won 284 straight games. It’s also a team whose players regularly hide the basketball under their jerseys and douse the referee with a bucket of water.
Harlem Globetrotters forward Alex “Big Ticket” Sanders dunks against Metro State College of Denver in a game last year. Metro State was the 2000 NCAA Division II national champion.
In other words, the CUA Cardinals will play the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters right here on campus, in the Raymond A. DuFour Center at 7 p.m. The Globetrotters chose to play Catholic University because it won last year’s NCAA Division III national championship.
Actually, though, there won’t be any drenching of referees, hiding of basketballs or other trademark Globetrotters hijinks at the Nov. 19 game. In addition to showcasing their trick shots and fancy dribbling at the expense of their straight-man foils, the New York Nationals, the Globetrotters engage in serious competition a number of times each year versus top NCAA and international teams. This month, for example, in addition to playing CUA, the Globetrotters took on last year’s Division II champion, Kentucky Wesleyan College (on Nov. 4), and the Division I University of Iowa (on Nov. 7), University of Minnesota (on Nov. 8) and St. John’s University (on Nov. 10). For those with cable, the Iowa game was broadcast on ESPN2 and the St. John’s game was shown on the MSG network.
The Nov. 19 game will be “completely serious,” with no intent to embarrass CUA players with trick plays, says the Globetrotters’ vice president for communications, Brett Meister.
The $10 tickets for the CUA game are about half the usual price for Globetrotters’ games, and the DuFour Center’s 2,400 seats are likely to be filled, according to Coach Lonergan and CUA Athletic Director Robert J. Talbot.
Although the Cardinals’ season officially begins three days earlier with a Nov. 16 away game against William Paterson University, the exhibition game with the Globetrotters will feature a special highlight: the first unveiling and raising of CUA’s 2001 NCAA Division III Champion banner.
Matt Hilleary (no. 33), one of the co-captains of this year’s Cardinals, will help lead CUA against the Globetrotters.
When playing in a serious competition, and not just for laughs, the Globetrotters are a formidable foe. Only two teams have beaten them since 1995: the 2000 NCAA Division I champion Michigan State University Spartans, who edged the Globetrotters 82-80 on Nov. 13, 2000, and Western Kentucky University, who beat the Globetrotters on Nov. 3 of this year.
Composed of players who were formerly starters at universities from the Division I University of Kentucky to the obscure Indian Hills Community College of Ottumwa, Iowa, the Globetrotters regularly beat teams composed of NCAA all-stars, most of them Division I players. On March 30, the Globetrotters beat a team of NCAA all-stars 75-63, and, as of Nov. 13, the Globetrotters’ all-time record when playing university teams was 159-67.
“I expect the Globetrotters will be better than any Division I team we’ve ever played,” Coach Lonergan says. CUA in the past two years has lost close games to the Division I teams from American University and Columbia University — and last year beat their first Division I team since 1981: the State University of New York at Albany.
“When we’ve played Division I teams in the past, I just tell the team to play hard and have fun,” says Coach Lonergan, whose team went 28-5 last year and became the only team in the nation to appear in the Sweet 16 round of the past four NCAA Division III Tournaments.
Although the Globetrotters will be playing this year’s CUA team, not last year’s championship-winning roster, the Cardinals still boast 10 upperclassmen with NCAA championship experience.
One reason Coach Lonergan jumped at the opportunity to play this game is its future recruiting value. “I will be able to tell high school athletes that if they come to CUA they will be part of a team that played the Harlem Globetrotters,” he says.
The Harlem Globetrotters named Pope John Paul II an “Honorary Harlem Globetrotter” on Nov. 29, 2000, at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
And the high school recruits will likely know who the Globetrotters are, as the team has entertained more than 120 million fans in 115 countries since 1926. The Globetrotters are the most recognized and popular athletic team in the world, according to the “Q” Sports Ratings compiled by New York-based research firm Marketing Evaluations/TvQ Inc. And among individual sports stars, only Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are better known than the Globetrotters, according to the same rating system.
Dubbed “the Ambassadors of Goodwill,” the team last year presented an “Honorary Harlem Globetrotter” award to Pope John Paul II, only the eighth person to receive that honor, which recognizes “an individual of extraordinary character and achievement who has made an everlasting mark on the world.”
Burger King is sponsoring the Globetrotters’ world tour and Globetrotters players will come to CUA’s campus the day of the game to meet members of the CUA community, promote the upcoming contest, give out prizes of free Burger King food and demonstrate their basketball prowess on a portable half-court to be set up on a high-profile area on campus.
To order $10 general-admission tickets for the big game, send a check made out to “CUA Athletics” along with an enclosed, self-addressed stamped envelope to:
The Catholic University of America
Washington, DC 20064
Call Associate Athletic Director/Business Manager Robert Sargeant at 202-319-6042 for more details, or stop by his office in the DuFour Center on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to purchase tickets in person.