Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Justin Jaworski is used to the disrespect.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference product and Lafayette alumnus has dealt with it at every level he’s played at, from the folks who thought there was no way his Perk Valley squad could hang with Roman Catholic in the state playoffs, who were sure that the 6-foot-3 kid from the ‘burbs couldn’t earn a Division I scholarship, that his aspirations of playing high-level professional basketball were far-fetched at best.
Of course, if you’ve been following area hoops for any appreciable time, you might know that of course Jaworski led PV over Roman; that he scored more than 1,400 points at Lafayette, establishing himself as one of the best shooters in college hoops; that he averaged 9.8 ppg as a rookie in the G-League last year, playing 27 games with OKC Blue and making 40% of his 3-pointers.
Justin Jaworski (above) had Tom Gola Arena rocking and rolling on Friday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Those facts weren’t known to most of the crowd at the 17th annual Rumph Classic on Friday night, when Jaworski suited up for Arete Sports in a losers bracket game against a star-studded Team F.O.E. (Family Over Everything) at Tom Gola Arena.
“I didn’t know nothing about him,” admitted Cardinal Dougherty and Hampton alum Vinny Simpson, one of F.O.E.'s longtime team members on a squad led by NBAers Marcus and Markieff Morris.
And when celebrity MC Eric ‘Ghee Funny’ Lawton, working the microphone Friday night, needed to come up with a nickname for the slick-haired shooting guard, he picked a nickname that didn’t sit well with Jaworski: “Somebody’s Boss.”
“I said ‘don’t ever talk about me like that, don’t ever disrespect me,” Jaworski said. “I thought he was being disrespectful at first, I said you don’t know who I am, don’t ever talk to me like that.”
Lawton, a comedian who has 1.6 million followers on his Instagram page and who generally worked the games and crowd with aplomb on Friday, said he didn’t mean it as an insult.
“It’s just the way his hair is, the look. I thought it’d be good for the crowd — when I give a kid a name, it’s for the crowd and them,” Lawton said. “‘Somebody’s Boss’ doesn’t mean he can’t play ball, ‘Somebody’s Boss’ means he can. I want all eyes on him.”
“When I walked in here [...] the crowd was quiet, so I picked him. I said this is the dude I’m going to get to get this crowd lit. All I need him to do is hit some shots.”
Regardless of Lawton's intent, to Jaworski, the nickname was all he needed to get back in his underdog mindset, especially as Lawton knew the names of many of the other players, calling them by their initials or, in the Morris’ twins case, ‘Smooth’ and ‘Star.’
“It almost feels like the whole (college) recruitment every time,” Jaworski said. “Obviously I’m not playing for a scholarship every time, but I’m playing for respect.
“Nobody knows who I am — I’m the shortest guy on the court, I need to go out and prove myself, these guys don’t believe in me, they don’t know who I am. It’s almost like I’m playing for a scholarship, but everywhere I go I’m playing for respect.”
Jaworski (above) goes up for two of his 33 points. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Friday night, Justin Jaworski earned it, once again.
He hit a few shots in the first half, scoring nine points as F.O.E. built an eight-point halftime advantage.
It was in the fourth quarter, after F.O.E. had built its lead to more than 20, that Jaworski caught fire. A couple deep threes, pulling up in transition, and a driving layup and it the lead was no longer insurmountable. With Lawton begging Arete to let Jaworski shoot again, a missed shot led to an offensive rebound, and then Jaworski buried another left-wing triple.
Suddenly, ‘Somebody’s Boss’ was the crowd favorite.
“When he hit two in a row, I said ‘We’re on,’” Lawton said. “Now when he’s on fire, me and him are working with each other, he doesn’t even know it.”
“I think I hit two or three in a row, and they started to cheer a little bit, then I hit the turnaround on Kevin Anderson, and they got really into it,” Jaworski recalled. “At that point, I’m like, I’m going to shoot it every time I get it, and see what happens.
"It ended up being love at the end, but (the nickname) fired me up.”
With every shot Jaworski hit, the crowd got louder and louder, ramping up quickly; by the time he pulled Arete within eight, and then five, there was no doubt who everybody was pulling for, Jaworski rightfully taking about every shot he had open, everybody in attendance understanding who had the hot hand, buzz going around about what was becoming the performance of the evening.
Jaworski didn’t quite shoot his team to victory, but he came pretty darn close. Jaworski finished with 33 points, equaling Marcus Morris’ outing, hitting seven 3-pointers as well as a few tough finishes and mid-range pull-ups. He hit five 3-pointers and scored 21 of that in the fourth quarter alone.
“Listen, I didn’t know he could shoot that well, I was just BSing around and he caught fire,” Simpson said. “I’ll follow his career now, I’ll tell you that much. I’m on Eurobasket all the time, wherever he’s at, I’m going to follow him. Love him.”
Afterwards, approaching Markieff Morris to pay his respects to one of the city’s most well-known hoops alumni, Jaworski got respect in return.
“He was taking a million pictures, I said ‘I don’t want to interrupt, big fan, loved competing against you,’ and he said ‘great game, way to put on a show,’ stuff like that,” he said. “[That felt] awesome for me, he’s an NBA [player], Philly guy, so that’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life.”
Jaworski won’t be returning to the G League this winter, signing instead with Acunsa GBC in the second level of the Spanish basketball league system. Though he’ll be playing in the LEB Oro instead of the top-level Liga ACB, he’ll be playing in a city (San Sebastian) with nearly 200,000 people and in an arena of more than 10,000.
“That’s the idea,” he said. “Go kill it, win the league, and move right up.”