Photos: Zack Beavers
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – The venue may change but the spirit and allure will forever radiate when that name is emblazoned across billboard-sized posters as anxious spectators, both young and old, await their chance to rub shoulders with some of the greatest to ever grace the hardwood and blacktops of Philadelphia.
The 18th annual Danny Rumph Classic was held at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), a setting that has played host in the past and is just three blocks from Broad Street – the connection to the city. The event has become the epicenter for Philadelphia basketball in the summer. To think about where Philadelphia basketball was when Danny Rumph - the event and foundation’s namesake who died tragically in 2005 as a result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – passed away to where it has transcended since is something that is celebrated each summer in the City of Brotherly Love.
Markieff Morris, who helped lead FOE to the 2022 Danny Rumph Classic title, was entering his senior year at Prep Charter before a career that saw him win a PIAA Class 2A title, star at Kansas and play 13 seasons in the NBA. Over in the Philadelphia Catholic League, Reggie Redding had won league MVP and Antonio “Scoop” Jardine just finished his sophomore campaign. That is a small sample size of what intertwines generations of basketball and brings them all together for one special weekend every August. Look around the gym at CCP and it’s not hard to see what this event truly means to Philadelphia basketball.
New St. Joe’s Hawks Anthony Finkley and Xzayvier Brown – teammates on Roman Catholic’s 2023 Philadelphia Catholic title team – were in attendance. Jordan Dill, who has scored over 1,000 points in two seasons at Germantown Friends School, made an appearance.
Jessie Moses recently helped Westtown School to the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) title as an eighth grader and showcased her ability in the Girls Future Game.
In the boys game, Tyler Sutton - heading to play for Ben Luber at George School - displayed why he’s one of the most heralded recruits in the class of 2027, and gave everyone there a glimpse of what is to come.
Ahmad Nowell - a UConn commit and one of the premier players in the city after winning consecutive PIAA 5A titles at Imhotep Charter under Andre Noble - took in the action. Khalif Wyatt, a former star at Norristown and Temple who accepted a position at his alma mater as the program’s Director of Player Development, sat courtside as did Philadelphia City Council At-Large Isaiah Thomas, who also happens to have been the head coach at Sankofa Freedom for the past 14 seasons.
Thomas attended Frankford High School and has been a mainstay in Philadelphia hoops and politics for over a decade. He sees the turnout at the Danny Rumph Classic and feels bonded to the event that interconnects different eras of a game that defines a city.
“It’s what makes Philly special,” Thomas said. “You get a lot of retired guys coming out. I saw John Salmons here. Lynn Greer II is right there. You get a lot of the older guys who come to cheer on the young guys. It’s the beauty of the Philadelphia basketball community.”
The Philadelphia faithful descended onto 17th & Spring Garden on Monday night to link those generations of local basketball and crown the next champion. Lamar Stevens poured in 33 points and eight rebounds while former Roman Catholic teammate Tony Carr chipped in 13 points, six rebounds and eight assists to lead LOE to a 97-82 victory over 8EYE to secure the 2023 Danny Rumph Classic championship.
Stevens scored 21 points in the second half and Mike Watkins, a former Phelps School standout and teammate of Stevens and Carr at Penn State, dominated inside with 12 points and 21 rebounds. It was a special moment for Stevens and Carr, the 2023 Danny Rumph Classic Co-MVPs who reunited after not having played together since 2018 in Happy Valley.
Their former head coach Chris McNesby was on hand to see the dynamic tandem put another impressive performance together, just as they did in winning the 2016 Philadelphia Catholic League, District 12, and PIAA Class 4A titles as seniors. Stevens and Carr combined for 43 points in the 2016 league title win and this victory gives them every possible trophy in the Philadelphia basketball landscape.
McNesby stressed that this title means just as much as the others did.
“It’s basically a big part of the 2016 team,” McNesby said. “Seeing these guys have the relationships to call and see each other is great. They’re all wearing their numbers from high school. They bonded through all those championships.”
The duo joined a list that includes studs such as Dionte Christmas, Maalik Wayns, Markieff and Marcus Morris, and Maurice Watson as MVPs, and they closed out an event in the same way they culminated their high school careers. Carr and Stevens played two seasons at Penn State together before the former entered the NBA Draft. Stevens put together a sensational collegiate career over four years and played the last three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ahmad Gilbert, who won a pair of PIAA state titles at Consitution before playing at Rider, knocked down seven three-pointers for LOE and finished with 23 points.
Gilbert will continue his professional career in Iraq next season after averaging 31.8 points per game in Iceland this past year. Josh Sharkey, who starred at Archbishop Carroll, racked up 15 points as he, Carr and Stevens were back together like they were in their younger days playing AAU for Philly Triple Threat.
8EYE stormed out of the gate as former Cardinal Dougherty and Hampton standout Vinny Simpson, now the head coach of the Friends’ Central School girls program, found Khalif Meares, who led Abraham Lincoln to the 2018 PIAA 6A title game and will play at Rowan University this season, for a layup and the lead was 13-5. Simpson showed he is still more than capable of filling it up as he went for 22 points, including four three-pointers, and Meares went for 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Ja’Quan Newton, the former Miami (Fla.) and Neumann-Goretti great who remains the Philadelphia Catholic League’s all-time leading scorer with 1,972 points, added seven points and Austin Tilghman, a 2014 First Team All-Catholic and teammate of Sharkey’s at Archbishop Carroll, led the way with 19 points.
Throughout the weekend, a flurry of elite players from all over the area took the floor and made their presence known to an audience reveling in the moment. Los Angeles Clippers guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland went for an astounding 56 points in a win over Blue Magic on Friday. Philadelphia 76ers forward Paul Reed – fresh off a three-year, $24M contract – tallied 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in his Danny Rumph Classic debut and was joined by Memphis Grizzlies forward Isaiah Todd and new Dallas Mavericks guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker, who erupted for 32 of his 40 points in the second half to spur 8EYE over Basketball Finders in the semifinals.
Without Reed and Walker, 8EYE was short-handed against LOE and the combination of Stevens and Carr proved to be too much in the end. Monday was the crowning achievement for the Roman Catholic pair, according to McNesby, because of the significance of where they won this title and what it ultimately represents at this point in each player’s life.
“We’re an earlier part of their journey,” McNesby said. “It’s them not only doing what they love to do but they’re all successful and doing well in life. It’s a home run for me as a coach to see them have these great relationships.”
The event seems to grow each and every year. The likes of James Harden, James Tatum and even Tyrese Maxey, who scored 34 points in last year’s final, have donned the Rumph Classic jersey to represent themselves and the foundation that strives to, as its Twitter page reads, #SaveTheNextBrightStar. The game brings the city to one place for four days to bask in the excellence of Philadelphia basketball.
For Councilman Thomas, the Danny Rumph Classic has taken on a life of its own and its growth cannot be understated.
“Basketball is part of the DNA of the city,” Thomas said. “This is the first time that the city has partnered with the Danny Rumph Foundation to help put this together. It’s been an amazing couple of days and we have more to come.”
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