Dale Brown has journeyed to the ends of the earth to seek out potential basketball stars, and though Brown retired four years ago after 25 seasons as LSU's coach, he still has a knack for finding talent in the most unlikely places. Brown discovered a 13-year-old Shaquille O'Neal at a West German military base, and last May, at the urging of the Asian Basketball Confederation, he traveled to Mongolia to attend that country's first basketball clinic, held in the capital, Ulan Bator. "Two teams came out to warm up, and the players weren't big at all," Brown, 66, says. "All of a sudden, the last person to emerge was a giant."
Brown couldn't take his eyes off 7-foot Sharavjamts (Shark) Tserenjanhor, who wowed him in drills with his dazzling ball handling. Then the scrimmage started. "Shark scored the fastest 50 points I've ever seen," Brown says. During the game, Brown turned to the man next to him and whispered, "This is impossible."
Especially in Mongolia, where Tserenjanhor (SAR-in-jong-car) is thought to be the country's tallest man. Even in the U.S., Tserenjanhor, who this summer became the first Asian member of the Harlem Globetrotters, is a rare breed: a 7-foot center who plays the position elegantly. "He has such flair," says Brown. "I thought immediately that he was a Division I player."
After finding out that Tserenjanhor was 27 and ineligible to play in the NCAA, Brown called Mannie Jackson, owner of the Globetrotters. A month later Jackson flew Tserenjanhor to Phoenix, where the Trotters are based. "I was skeptical," says Charles (Tex) Harrison, who has been with the Globetrotters since 1954, first as a player and now as the head coach. "If you're a 7-footer who can bounce a basketball and chew gum at the same time, everyone wants to look at you. Shark, though, is special. I never imagined we'd have a Mongolian, but with the way he shoots and handles the ball, he fits in. I'm glad we got him before anyone else did."
"As a physical specimen, he's intriguing," says Phoenix Suns assistant director of player personnel David Griffin, who observed Tserenjanhor during a recent Suns practice that included several Globetrotters. "He's as agile as any 7-footer I've ever seen. If he were 18 or 19, people would be talking about him as a high NBA draft pick."
Any speculation about an NBA career is premature, because Tserenjanhor will first have to prove himself during the Globetrotters' rigorous 300-game schedule. (Their season opens on Nov. 3 against Western Kentucky and 7'1", 285-pound center Chris Marcus, the leading college rebounder last year.) In July and August, however, Tserenjanhor was impressive against Othella Harrington, Shawn Kemp, Oliver Miller and other current and former NBA players in Houston summer league games.
Still, Tserenjanhor's shortcomings are apparent: At 210 pounds he's painfully underweight. "He also needs to improve defensively," says Globetrotter assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who was an NBA coach for seven seasons. "These things will improve with time. We'll bring him along carefully, but he's going to get very good, very fast. It's clear he understands the game."
Tserenjanhor's feel for the sport is remarkable given that he was 17 the first time he played organized ball. In a high school game Tserenjanhor grabbed a rebound and slammed the ball through the rim. Fans in the gym rose to their feet in disbelief. "They had never seen a dunk," says Tserenjanhor.
For the next 10 years Tserenjanhor lunched on hapless Mongolian opponents while playing in the Ulan Bator city league. Tserenjanhor's stiffest competition came when he played on the Mongolian team in the quadrennial East Asian Games, held this year in Japan, in which he averaged more than 30 points a game.
Tserenjanhor grew up in the copper-mining town of Erdenet, where he studied linguistics at the Foreign Language Institute. In June he was three weeks from completing law school requirements when he moved to Phoenix with his wife, Erdenebulgan, and their two-year-old son, Munkhiin od. Tserenjanhor's passion lies in politics: One day he would like to run for office in Mongolia. "Life is difficult there," he says of a country that has high unemployment and more than a third of its citizens living below the poverty line. "We need to make it better."