Darnell Foreman (above) helped Rumph Center to a championship in his first Rumph Classic appearance. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
As the Rumph Classic enters the middle part of its second decade of its existence, the charity event founded by Mike Morak can no longer rely on its original core -- those who knew Danny Rumph personally, before his sudden, tragic death in 2005.
Players like Hakim Warrick, Sharif Bray, Flip Murray and more are all quickly approaching 40, at the point in their lives where they won’t much longer be able to hang with the still-active pros who populate the Rumph Classic rosters each year.
For the Rumph Classic to survive, it needs the next group of Philadelphia ballplayers to carry the torch, to treat it as seriously as Rumph’s contemporaries did. Players like Darnell Foreman, who just graduated from Penn this spring, after leading the Quakers to the Ivy League tournament championship as a senior.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to understand what you’re playing for,” the Pitman (N.J.) product said. “It’s not about basketball, it’s about taking care of your health...it’s always good for young guys to learn more and understand what this event is about, really.”
What the Rumph Classic is about is honoring the memory of its namesake, who passed away during a pick-up basketball game while home before his junior year at Western Kentucky, the victim of an undiscovered heart defect. So Morak launched the charity showcase, turning it into a high-level hoops affair whose proceeds all went towards providing free heart screenings for area youths as well as automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) placed in rec centers around the city.
The 2018 Rumph Classic championship game didn’t have the star power of previous years, like when one of the top ballplayers on the globe -- Houston Rockets guard James Harden -- showed up to lead Team FOE to the 2016 title, with Allen Iverson looking on.
Team FOE had Jalen Brunson and John Wall on its roster along with the Morris twins this year, but was upset in the semifinals by Rumph Center. So it was mostly two groups of homegrown talent, Philadelphia natives currently playing pro ball all over the globe, who battled it out on Monday night.
And while the old heads were certainly present -- including 2003 Drexel grad Robert Battle suiting up for one side and 2006 Temple grad Wayne Marshall for the other -- kids who were in elementary school when that pair was in college were making their mark as well.
Foreman, who scored 16 points for Team Rumph Center in its 103-100 win over Team Blue Magic in the championship on Monday, was one of several recent college grads who took the court and impressed.
Former BU and Creighton standout Maurice Watson Jr. had 24 points and nine assists. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Maurice Watson Jr., whose college career was cut short 19 games into his senior year at Creighton in 2017 due to a torn ACL, looked like he was back to his days at Boys’ Latin tearing up the Public League, finishing with 24 points, six rebounds and a game-high nine assists for Team Rumph Center. Shep Garner, a four-year starter at Penn State and a main piece on the 2018 NIT champions, had 14 points for Team Blue Magic.
Playing earlier in the tournament were other recent City 6 alums like La Salle’s B.J. Johnson, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Darrun Hilliard and more.
“We wanted to make a concerted effort to go after the guys who have been out one or two years,” Morak said. “A couple more guys that are coming through the city that will play in the next couple years that we’re excited about...that younger generation are the ones who can take us to 26 years and 30 years.”
There’s also the players in the middle, like 2012 Drexel grad Samme Givens, who finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds and delivered the win for Rumph Center with a 3-pointer and tough runner in the game’s final two minutes to flip what had been a four-point deficit into a one-point advantage.
Givens isn’t quite a contemporary of Rumph’s and his ilk, but in his seventh Rumph Classic, isn’t one of the young guys anymore, either. Soon enough, he’ll be looked at as one of the veterans, tasked with keeping the Rumph Classic alive.
“The older guys that run it...Sharif Brey, Mike Cuffee, Mike Green, I looked up to those guys when I was younger, they’re a little older than me and I sat back and watched them,” Givens said. “And as I’ve grown as a player and a young man -- or a man, period -- I paid homage to them, and they’ve paid homage back.”
Even though the faces are changing, the Rumph Classic still has drawing power. The gym at Tom Gola Arena was mostly full, and a close game down the stretch got the crowd of several thousand on its feet; though the final tally will take some time to be counted, there’s no doubt it raised tens of thousands of dollars over its six-night run at La Salle for a great cause.
That’s why the talent shows up, why they play hard and selfless despite no payout at the end, nothing besides some bragging rights and a trophy. Danny Rumph’s friends made sure that’s how his memory was treated.
“They’ve laid the groundwork for how this tournament needs to be played out,” Watson said. “Anything less than what it is every year, especially now, then it’s not acceptable. So you come in here and you have respect when you come in here, you play for fun, and you go out and give it your all, and that’s what I think Danny was about.”