WARNER ROBINS -- The Houston County Sharks wheelchair basketball team got a special visit ahead of Friday's state championship game.
Anthony "Buckets" Blakes, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, stopped by the Northside High School gym to talk to the players, and he even joined them for practice.
"It's awesome," Blakes said. "Just to see that kids are staying active despite their disabilities is awesome."
The 39-year-old is a Phoenix, Arizona, native and a product of the University of Wyoming. He has played in both the Continental Basketball Association and the NBA Development League.
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Still, he described his time with the Globetrotters -- which has included visits to 79 countries -- as the "best basketball experience I've ever had" when he addressed the players before practice.
He also took time to encourage the Sharks.
"You all are an inspiration to other kids across the United States who play basketball," he said.
The visit was organized through a series of conversations earlier this week between Christy Jones, one of the Sharks' coaches, and the staff at the Macon Coliseum, where the Sharks will play their championship game. Blakes was going to be in town ahead of the Globetrotters' game there Tuesday, so Jones got in contact with the team's staff.
"We connected the dots," Jones said. "It all just fell in place."
The 6-foot-2 guard also told the story of the Globetrotters, which began as an outlet for black athletes in Chicago held out of teams and leagues that were open only to white players. From there, it grew into the traveling organization known to fans around the world.
That message resonated with 16-year-old Braxton Robinson.
"They started from the bottom and if they do it, if you put your mind to it and put a team together, anybody can do it," he said.
Robinson was on the opposite team from Blakes during a practice game Thursday, and he often found himself going head to head with the Globetrotter. On multiple occasions, he was able to get the best of the seasoned professional to set up or score a basket for his team.
"Knowing his skill level and I'm able to do that, it's encouraging," he said.
That confidence boost could serve the team well heading into a title match-up.
"I think it's a motivator, just knowing they can get out here and compete with an athlete of this caliber," Jones said.
Blakes said he was impressed with what he saw from the Sharks, whose championship game against Gwinnett County tips off Friday at noon at the Macon Coliseum, where the Globetrotters will play Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Putting on a show is part of his job, but he said the younger athletes knew how to entertain as well in a sport that he described as physically challenging due to the core and upper body strength involved.
"They've got skills," he said. "I had a lot of fun."
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.