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Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Shanghaied by Globetrotters

Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist

Growing up in the Northwest, Eric Sandrin believed in the magic of basketball. Playing day and night, inside and out, he began to think the game could take him places.

Maybe someday to Boston to become a Celtic, or to Portland and the Trail Blazers. Maybe he could play for his hometown Seattle Sonics. Growing up with the game, nothing seemed impossible.

Except, perhaps, playing for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Two and a half weeks ago, Sandrin, then a member of the Bellevue Black Hawks, was in Las Vegas playing for the American Basketball Association's West All-Stars. He was playing alongside former NBA players Todd Day and Jimmy King and playing well.

Scouts from the Trail Blazers, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks were there. And, oh yeah, Chad Groth, a scout for the Harlem Globetrotters, also was watching.

After the game, Groth asked if Sandrin would be willing to stay in Vegas an extra day to work out for Globetrotters owner Manny Jackson.

"I was surprised and, to be honest, I was kind of nervous at the workout," Sandrin said by telephone from Jacksonville, Fla. "I can't even spin a basketball on my finger. I can't do any of that stuff. I mean I can play basketball, but I don't know how to do any tricks."

Another reason for surprise? Sandrin isn't African-American.

Groth told him not to worry about the tricks or his skin color. It didn't matter. Sandrin, who played at Shorecrest High School and Seattle Pacific, was impressive enough in the open-gym session that Jackson signed him to a 10-day contract.

"To be out there, to see the way little kids look at you. I mean, it's just a thrill for me to put on my Globetrotters practice uniform," Sandrin said. "It's a little bit like the feeling of being a little boy again. I remember watching the Globetrotters as a kid and seeing how much fun they were having playing basketball.

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"But being with the Globetrotters isn't even something I ever thought of. It's unlike anything I've ever been around before. It really is like a boyhood dream come true."

After he arrived in Jacksonville yesterday, Sandrin thought he would be offered another 10-day contract. But he signed for the rest of the season, which, for the Globetrotters, doesn't end until September.

And now Sandrin, the only non-African-American on the team, is no longer called Eric. His new name — he guesses because his mother is Korean — is Shanghai.

"The owner gives all the players their nicknames," said Sandrin, 26. "I guess I bring a different twist to the Globetrotters. I'm still getting used to my name. We have autograph sessions after the games, and kids are yelling at me, 'Shanghai, can I have your autograph?' And I still have to remember they're talking to me."

This is the latest, and certainly the most adventurous, stop in Sandrin's trans-global basketball career. Before joining Bellevue, he played professionally in Luxembourg two years ago and in Brazil last year.

Already with the Globetrotters he has played in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Everett, Vancouver and Portland. Their schedule looks like something out of Amtrak.

Tonight the Trotters play in Jacksonville, then continue a Southern odyssey that will take them to Pensacola, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and points south.

"The first couple of games, I just watched them do all their amazing stuff, and the anticipation was killing me," he said. "Then I got out there, and I played in front of 10,000 people in Anaheim and 14,000 at the Staples Center. And I'd never played in front of that many people before, and during the introductions I noticed my hands were shaking.

"In Los Angeles, we had Pamela Anderson on the bench, and I signed an autograph for Jamie Lee Curtis. To be playing in front of that many people, and then for so many of them to be people you recognize, is pretty amazing. I don't think I could have written a script about my life that was like this.

"Right now I'm taking what they call, 'Globetrotters 101.' They're teaching me the tricks. Now I can spin the ball on my finger. But graduation, for me, will be when they invite me into their (pregame, mid-court) circle, when they do all that great stuff with the ball. That's what they're prepping me for."

The Globetrotters are serious about being funny, which, for the 6-foot-9 Sandrin, has been the most difficult adjustment. His teammates throw passes off the floor and the backboard, which he skies for and dunks. But it's the show after that show that Sandrin still is learning.

"I'm not really that expressive," he said. "I mean, in college if you do a bunch of stuff, you get a technical, and coach (Ken) Bone would have sat me on the bench. But Special K (former UCLA guard Kevin Daley) told me I have to be more flamboyant. Get the crowd involved.

"When he dunks, he screams and opens his eyes wide. He runs into the stands and high-fives the kids and has this big smile on his face. That's all stuff I'm still learning."

The game has changed along with his name. The basketball career of Shanghai Sandrin has taken a magical, unpredictable twist.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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