The Danny Rumph Classic: Hoops memories for a cause

Chuck Ellis (right) steals the ball from Ty Garland (left) during this week’s 12th annual Danny Rumph Classic Basketball Tournament, at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena.

The last game of the 12th Danny Rumph Classic was done, decided when a last-second three-pointer inside La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena fell short. Tournament director Mike Morak talked about how they had been looking at videos of the early years, seeing “nobody in there,” inside what used to be called the Mallery Recreation Center in Germantown and now is the Danny Rumph Recreation Center.

“It’s cool to see the evolution of it,” Morak said as the place emptied out.

Monday night wasn’t as crazy as last year’s final when James Harden joined the Morris twins and took the title. The line before that game had stretched out to Olney Avenue. Allen Iverson even showed up to watch. This were the diehards, Gola about half full. Hakim Warrick, from West Philadelphia and Friends Central, his NCAA-winning block at Syracuse and eight NBA seasons, was MVP for the winning Chuck Ellis team. Morak pointed out that “Skinny” Warrick has played in all 12 Danny Rumph classics.

“It’s a Philadelphia basketball tournament,” Morak said. “You walk around, it’s all the people, the coaches you played for as a young kid. You never know who’s watching. It’s all these people you may never see but have had some type of impact on your life, and this is the time you can come back and see somebody. About 80 percent of the guys who have played in the tournament have played professionally in some way, shape, or form. You’ve got guys who are all around the world who don’t get a chance to see everybody that they grew up playing with.”

There were Markieff and Marcus Morris sitting past the far baseline. Jerome Allen, now a Boston Celtics assistant, walked in and immediately was sharing laughs with the front row of the crowd. A little group from Southwest Philly stood when Tyrone Garland took a jumper. A North Philly contingent was over there. Quade Green, headed for Kentucky, walked in wearing UK gear.

“It has grown so strong. This is what my son was all about,” said Viola Owens, Danny Rumph’s mother.

Rumph, then a junior star at Western Kentucky, died in 2005. Home from school, he collapsed after a game at the Mallery Recreation Center near his home in Mount Airy. An autopsy revealed that Rumph, 21, died of cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart.

The tournament benefits the Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation. Its mission: “Save the next bright star.” The foundation has raised money to put automated external defibrillators in Philadelphia recreation centers, schools, and places such as the Fellowship House in Conshohocken, where Rumph once played in the Donofrio Classic.

Just as big for his mom, his name has lived on, with every player wearing it.

“To honor him this way, it’s just a wonderful thing,” she said.

The Rumph Center team itself, coached by a group of guys who grew up with Rumph, fell a shot short despite the efforts of former Temple star Ramone Moore and former La Salle star Ramon Galloway, both now seasoned European pros, showing a burst in their step.

“My team is comprised of people I actually know,” said Sharif Hanford, one of the Rumph Center coaches. He was wearing a Rumph WKU replica jersey. “Ramon Galloway, me and his uncle played for Germantown High School together. He was coming up to our practices back in 2000 and 2001. He was probably about 10 years old. The last time I saw Danny play, actually play in pickup games before he passed, we were in a gym and Ramon Galloway was there. We were at the PAL on Germantown Avenue.”

The Chuck Ellis team was coached by Chuck Ellis, who holds workouts for all sorts of players, carrying on a tradition from the late John Hardnett. Ellis got out there playing, too, which produced razzing from the baseline. Ellis said he could hear Marcus Morris yelling, “Get him out of the game.”

“My favorite part of Chuck Ellis’ team is sometimes he goes out there and fouls, and they say ‘foul on Chuck Ellis for Team Chuck Ellis,’ ” Morak said, “and then he normally gets subbed out, and it’s ‘Chuck Ellis going out for Chuck Ellis.’ ”

Warrick and former Arcadia player Andrew “Dino” Martin are the two who have played in all 12 Rumph Classics.

“I played with him,” Warrick said of Rumph, “so when it first started out, they told me it was happening. I wanted to be part of it.”

He wasn’t the oldest starter on the court. That was Ronald “Flip” Murray, who played eight NBA seasons. One of the great ball handlers Philadelphia has produced, that skill still is evident at age 38.

How much ball has he been playing?

“Lately, none,” Murray said. “I’ve been playing a little pickup in the morning at LA Fitness. Other than that, none. I could have played in the 3-on-3 this year, but I had pulled my groin on Mother’s Day so I couldn’t.”

A few teenagers in the crowd yelled about “Old Head” out there having the ball in his hands a lot, apparently not knowing the history of the man with the ball and the gray beard, how he had embarrassed LeBron and many others during his NBA days with moves refined at 16th and Susquehanna and at Strawberry Mansion High.

“To be able to still play, at 38, against some of the top talent in the area, it’s always great for me,’’ Murray said.

Former Sixer Lou Williams had shown up the first night of the four-day tournament and lit up the gym. Former Drexel star Samme Givens had played for the Rumph team, doing Samme Givens things and grabbing offensive boards. There was a familiarity to the whole thing, even if some years had passed since you’d seen some of these players. No fans walked out demanding their $15 back.