Right place, right time: Harlem Globetrotter’s journey to play basketball

By Jakob S. Miller
Times-News correspondent

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Orlando "El Gato" Melendez will perform with the Harlem Globetrotters on Saturday at LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem and on Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum. [Photo submitted

   Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Orlando aka “El Gato” (The Cat) Melendez, certainly has a remarkable story to tell about his journey to becoming a Harlem Globetrotter.
In his youth, he would run two miles to the nearest basketball court to play, and run two miles back. In his early teenage years, he earned the nickname “El Gato” when he followed some stray cats through a sugarcane field, which let him straight to the basketball court in a shorter route. The cats would show up to the court everyday with him, and the guys at the court began calling him “El Gato,” Spanish for “The Cat.”
From there, he finished his senior year of high school playing basketball in Marion, N.C. Following high school, Melendez attended and played basketball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, appearing with the Tar Heels in Final Fours in 1998 and 2000. He describes this experience as an “amazing ride” and takes pride in having been the first Puerto Rican on the team.
In a recent phone interview, El Gato described becoming a Harlem Globetrotters as being a “right place, right time” situation. While on the phone with his agent, he ran into one of the Globetrotter coaches who suggested he try out for the team.
He went to the tryout in Phoenix, and the rest is history. He said he enjoys being a part of the team because he has “always been a competitor” and since “doing tricks for schools and hospitals makes people happy.”
With the NCAA tournament coming into full swing, Melendez said he is “super excited to be home doing some work especially during March Madness,” and said “anything can happen in an NCAA tournament.”
You can see El Gato and the rest of the Harlem Globetrotters at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Tickets are $15 and up and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.

Jakob S. Miller is a senior at Southern Alamance High School and a Teens & 20s writer.

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