By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
It’s not hard for Mike Morak to put into perspective the longevity of the Danny Rumph Classic.
Earlier this week someone who played in the first event back in 2005 called Morak. He wanted to let Morak know his son is set to graduate college next year and excited to play in next summer’s event.
That's how you know something has been around for a long time.
For 17 years, Morak and the other event directors and organizers have put on the Rumph Classic in honor of their friend and family member Danny Rumph, a former Philadelphia basketball standout who died of a heart condition.
The event is back again from Thursday through Monday at La Salle University’s Tom Gola Arena.
“It’s important to always remember where we came from,” Morak said. “And it’s important the other guys kind of understand the history of the event and they want to be a part of the future of it.”
“It’s important to be able to keep the message alive, be able to tell those stories but then have so many other people want to be a part of the event, want to have a close connection to the event and Danny and want to kind of see it go on for many more years.”
Maurice Watson plays at the Rumph Classic in 2018. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rumph, a standout at Parkway High and later Western Kentucky University died of a heart condition in 2005 while playing pickup basketball at The Mallery Recreation Center, now named the Daniel E. Rumph II Recreation Center.
The Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation was established to bring awareness to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and to provide screening for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause for SCA. The Rumph Classic is part of that continued effort through the Philadelphia basketball community.
“It’s the passion that we all have to keep Danny’s name alive and just the energy around what we’ve built to stick out, support each other and I think the longevity side is really important for us to bring everybody together,” Morak said. “We all treat it as a Philadelphia basketball barbecue.
“This is the time you see everybody that you grew up with, you played with, you might have coached, somebody might have coached you. Even if you’re not playing, you’re going to come up, watch the games and see a bunch of friends and family that, you know life gets busy, so you don’t get the chance to see everybody, this is where you know you can come and have those great memories.”
One of the things Morak said remains important about the Rumph Classic is to put on an event that a high-level basketball player like Rumph would have played in. Each year it gathers some of the top players from the city and beyond.
The eight teams are headed by some of the area’s trainers and coaches. Former Neumann-Goretti and Syracuse standout Scoop Jardine's Rex6 team won the title last summer.
There will be four games each Thursday and Friday starting at 6 p.m. then four more on Saturday starting at 1 p.m. before a 1:30 p.m. game on Sunday and Monday's championship game at 7 p.m.
“We feel pretty good about the talent that they’ve got listed to play as well as the different generations of Philly basketball players that will play,” Morak said. “That goes for guys fresh out of school just starting their professional careers, whether overseas or the NBA, as well as guys who may have recently just retired.”
The rosters are kept under wraps until the event kicks off. Part of the event's allure is seeing who will show up every year.
Philadelphia native Hakim Warrick, a national champion at Syracuse and eight-year NBA veteran, was a friend and AAU teammate of Rumph’s. He was a consistent presence during the early days of the event.
Morak remembers former 76er center Marreese Speights going up against former Temple forward and professional hooper Wayne Marshall during one year’s event.
Proud Philadelphia natives Markieff and Marcus Morris, who played at Penn Charter, have tight ties with the Rumph Classic and have used their connections and influence over their lengthy NBA careers to draw players like James Harden (in 2016) to play.
Most recently, NBA players Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were first team all-tournament selections during last year’s event.
“Throughout the course of the years, the fans, the crowd environment, the atmospheres, the fun nature and the experience they’ve created for other players helps lead more players to come back and experience,” Morak said.
“One of the things we’ve always tried to do is make sure the city was proud of the event so that they would want to reach out to their friends or network and invite guys to come play,” he added. “Then the power of social media or the legendary stories … players really enjoy summer basketball, so they want to go find the crowds, the exciting moments and they want to be a part of that type of stuff.”
The Rumph Classic is one of the events that make August what Chosen League founder Rahim Thompson is trying to officially be called ‘Philly Legendary Summer Hoops Month.’
The event first took place at the Rumph Center in the Germantown area of Philadelphia where the growth of the spectators eventually became too big. The goal is to ‘bring the Rumph Center’ wherever the event is played with fans lining the court and overall putting on a uniquely Philly summer basketball experience.
It's been mission accomplished so far for 16 years and there is no reason to doubt Rumph Classic No. 17 should be any different.
“As we build the infrastructure and the fabric of what the Danny Rumph classic is, it’s a lot deeper than just an event and myself because there’s so many people that Danny meant a lot to,” Morak said. “Danny’s family was really tied into the basketball community.
“All of us as our organizers are really involved in Philadelphia basketball in a multitude of ways, so all of us are connected to a bunch of different people and Danny’s just a really likable, high-level basketball player. A lot of people play, participate, come for a lot of different reasons.”