'Too Tall' Jonte Hall living the dream with the Harlem Globetrotters

College dropout has become a star performer for the traveling hoops troupe

(Harlem Globetrotters )
March 23, 2012|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Three years ago, he was a 26-year-old college dropout cleaning carpets at the Social Security complex in Woodlawn. There, toiling away in the wee hours, Jonte Hall vowed to give basketball one last shot.

The Harlem Globetrotters are glad he did.

On Saturday, Hall will perform with the 'Trotters, the game's celebrated barnstormers, at the Verizon Center in Washington (1 p.m.). Billed as "Too Tall" Hall for his height (5-foot-2), he's the smallest player ever to suit up for the Globetrotters in their 86-year history. Yet there he'll be, showboating with the best, holing halfcourt jumpers before howling fans and staging dribbling displays reminiscent of past stars like Curly Neal and Marques Haynes.

At some point during the game, against a team of patsies, Hall will dribble into a crowd, then drop to the floor and strut his stuff. Lying on his side, he'll break dance in circles, whirling and sliding while maintaining his dribble, just inches off the court.

It's a show he'll put on 150 times a year as the Globetrotters travel the world.

If Hall is short of stature, he is long on dreams.

"It took a lot of prayers, hard work and long hours in the gym to get here," said Hall, who grew up in the McCulloh Street projects, in West Baltimore, and attended Carver Vo-Tech. "What I have now is a blessing."

His sights weren't set on the Globetrotters at first. In 2009, his life going nowhere, Hall approached the Washington Generals, the 'Trotters' longtime foils, for a tryout. The Generals read Hall's email and watched his video. Impressed, they signed him and put him in the game with four other fall guys.

Their role? Play the stooges to the Globetrotters' wild antics. Except for Hall. He'd score on long-range bombs and dribble among the stars as though one of them.

"Clearly, he was pushing the Generals to win," 'Trotters' coach Barry Hardy said. "That hasn't happened since 1971."

So, last fall, the Globetrotters made Hall their own.

"I remember the phone call, when they told me I was on the team," he said. "I cried like a baby. My mom cried. My whole family cried. Then they all went online and ordered a bunch of my (Globetrotter) jerseys, to wear when I'm in town."

Most 'Trotters sign right out of college. Although the team would not disclose players' salaries, officials said that only twice in 20 years has the club promoted a Generals' player.

"It happens, once in a blue moon," Hardy said. "After watching (Hall) out there, and seeing what he was doing to us, we knew this young man had the heart, skill and desire to be one of us. He has it all.

"He didn't give up on his dream, and that dream is reality now."

By all accounts, Hall has meshed with his teammates.

"I'd always wanted to play alongside somebody as short as me, if not shorter," said guard Tay (Firefly) Fisher, 26, who is 5-feet-9. "This is beyond my wildest expectations."

The Globetrotters tease Hall, no end, about his size.

"Everywhere we play, when we walk into a locker room, we look up at the ceiling and say, 'Hey, Too Tall, let's see you touch that,' " said Herbert (Flight Time) Lang, a 6-3 forward.

Hall takes the bait, plays along.

"He'll take a running jump and, usually, hit the ceiling," Lang said.

Hall's humility scores with other players.

"Too Tall is old school, not some spoiled athlete," said Lang, a 13-year veteran. "He's as committed, as hungry as he was six months ago, when he got that phone call.

"It's his first year, and already he's doing amazing things with the basketball. I can see him doing this for years to come. And he's a great role model. Signing autographs, he has all these little kids looking up to him — I mean, face-to-face — and grabbing at hope.

"Too Tall is proof that if you stay focused, act positive and take advantage of opportunities, good things can happen."

Hall took to sports early on. By age 7, he was cutting holes in milk cartons, nailing them to trees and shooting for hours. A basketball player, he would be.

"I played day and night, in rain and snow, working on tough shots and practicing little runners," he said. "I made sure I had the range (for jump shots) because I knew I didn't have the size to go up in the lane with those trees."

At 9, vexed by his lack of height, Hall asked his mother:

"How come I'm not tall, like the rest of the guys?"

She shrugged.

"Baby," she said, "You've got small parents."

Hall's father is 5-feet-4; his mom, 4-foot-9.

He honed his game at the Robert C. Marshall Rec Center, playing beside the likes of Carmelo Anthony, with whom Hall swapped basketball trading cards. At Carver, he helped the Bears reach the 2001 state playoffs, where they lost to Randallstown in the regional finals. But Hall wasn't the star of that team.

"Jonte was very coachable. He listened, and he played decent defense," said Durce Jackson, then Carver's coach. "What I remember most is that he never saw a shot that he wouldn't take.

"I didn't know he'd go this far."

Hall played one year at CCBC-Catonsville, where he mostly rode the bench.

"For his size, Jonte could shoot the daylights out of the ball. He was good, at least four feet behind the three-point line," Catonsville Coach Randy Gregory said. "He just got stuck here (CCBC), playing behind a couple of guards who wound up going to Division I schools."

Hall left college, to work, and to help his ailing mother. But he sharpened his game and kept in touch with his coach, who understood his goals and admired his efforts to get there.

"A lot of guys say they want to do XYZ in basketball, but they don't want to put in the work," Gregory said. "Jonte spent one year in college, but he kept playing. Yet, not in my wildest dreams did I think he'd pursue an opportunity with the Globetrotters."

And Hall? He's acting like he's 10 feet tall.

"I'll be here until the wheels fall off," he said. "I feel like I won a championship."

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