Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 21, 2013

ELKHART COUNTY FAIR: Harlem Wizards wow fairgoers

Traveling hoop troupe finds itself challenged on Indiana swing.

By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — When you bring a basketball-related show to Indiana, it’s got to be all about the hoops.

That’s the lesson a pair of members of the Harlem Wizards traveling show basketball team have been learning this week as they make their way though the Hoosier State.

The Wizards, a 50-year-old organization based in New Jersey, spent three days at the Hendricks County Fair earlier this week before bringing their fun, fan-interactive show to the Elkhart County Fair on Friday.

The Wizards — represented on their Indiana swing by team members Kenny “Blenda” Rodriguez and T.J. “Tomohawk” Stukes — put on three shows on a hot day at the fairgrounds basketball courts.

Rodriguez, a former college basketball player, said he’s getting to live out a dream by getting paid to play basketball.

“When I was a kid, I used to go see the Harlem Globetrotters,” Rodriguez said as he and Stukes took a break between shows in the pair’s air-conditioned trailer near the basketball courts. “I said to myself, “That’s what I want to do. I want to play basketball and make people happy.”

Rodriguez has been a Wizard for about five years. It’s a year-round gig for the most part, with a slimmed-down summer schedule to allow for time off.

At the end of July, Rodriguez said, the team will head to China for a tour there.

It will be Rodriguez’s sixth trip to China, where he said they also take their basketball quite seriously.

“They give you a standing ovation at the end no matter what, out of politeness,” Rodriguez said.

For both players, the best part of their job is getting a positive reaction out of the audience — whether it’s a packed house at an NBA arena, or a few dozen hardy Hoosier hoop fans on a hot day at the Elkhart County Fair.

“It’s about smiles,” Stukes said. “Smiles are contagious.”

The Wizards strive to put on a different kind of show than the Globetrotters, Rodriguez said. “We try to do more interaction with the audience, get them more involved,” Rodriguez said.

That, he said, can  mean taking on a local high school team, or a squad composed of local firefighters or police officers.

The Wizards play an average of 150 games a year. They also visit youth basketball camps.   

And when you play in Indiana, both players said, that means you’ve got to show your basketball bona fides right from the opening tip.

“The tricks and things we do usually come later,” Rodriguez said.

Stukes, who played at Southeast Missouri State, said he and his partner have to be on top of their game when they come to Indiana. “We’re really tested as basketball players here. And we think of ourselves as basketball players first, and entertainers second.”

For more information on the Wizards, visit their website at www.harlemwizards.com.