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Photo courtesy of the Harlem Globetrotters / Hops Pearce dreamt of being a professional basketball player, but didn't think it would be with the Harlem Globetrotters. The team will play in McKenzie Arena on Friday.

Like a lot of young people growing up, Hops Pearce first discovered the Harlem Globetrotters via watching Scooby-Doo cartoons. Originally aired in the early 1970s, the shows have been repeated several times. Pearce was not only entertained, but inspired.

Since his early childhood, it has always been a goal of his to play professional basketball.

"I didn't care if it was in the NBA or in Europe, so this opportunity to play was an easy decision," he says.

It was made even easier by the fact that every day it is his job to make people smile.

"No matter where we are in the world, it is such an honorable thing. Whether we are in China or Europe or wherever, we get to make people smile."

Pearce is a 6-foot guard from Tuckahoe, New York, who played collegiately at Purchase College, where he studied economics and made the Dean's List several times.

He finished third in the NCAA College Slam Dunk Competition in 2018. Officials with the Globetrotters saw his performance there and were impressed enough to reach out to him about joining the team.

If you go

› What: Harlem Globetrotters

› Where: UTC McKenzie Arena, 720 E. Fourth St.

› When: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17

› Admission: $20-$347

› Phone: 423-425-4721

› Online: www.utc.edu/mckenzie-arena

Though he didn't win, his signature dunk was alley-ooping the ball to himself with one hand, while he took a selfie with his cellphone in the other hand. It drew a good deal of attention.

He laughs at the memory, and says he tries to push things to the limit when it comes to showmanship.

"Using the phone is one of the hallmarks of my identity as a basketball player, let alone as a dunker. I try to move the needle as far as what has already been done."

In addition to playing basketball, Pearce enjoys playing chess, riding his unicycle and working with young athletes in helping them plan for a future beyond athletics.

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Hops Pearce / Photo by Nathaniel S Butler

"So many young athletes are unprepared for life after sports. They put all of their eggs in one basket. I try to help them understand that they have to find something else to do. A lot of these guys don't even know what they want."

While he is proud of all that he has accomplished, there is something special about wearing that red, white and blue basketball uniform.

"It's always cool to be universally respected, especially when we are outside of the U.S., but the coolest thing is just the joy that you see in people's face when they see that uniform."

The Globetrotters will visit UTC's McKenzie Arena for a performance at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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