JEREMIAH WORTHEM goes by "Lump," and don't try to pin him down for the reason.
Perhaps he was rather chubby as a baby and his mother's friend, who tagged him, thought he looked like a lump of something or another.
"Or maybe," Worthem said with a laugh, "I just had a lump on my head one day. I'm telling you, I do not know for sure.
"But I've always had this nickname. It has stuck with me since I was in the crib. Anytime I meet a new bunch of kids, at least someone's around who knows me as 'Lump' and they tell everybody else. It keeps it going."
By 7 p.m. Tuesday, Worthem likely had protrusions on his shoulder and forearm and forehead, and in about 17 other locations on his 6-7, 210-pound body.
Worthem, a forward bound for Robert Morris, emerged as one of the stars in a Public A classic - sloppy, yes, but relentlessly competitive - that should have featured a guest appearance by Muhammad Ali as the opening-tipoff throw-the-ball-upper.
"That was a war! A flat-out war!" Worthem gushed. "We punched them. They punched us. We punched them. And we had to be ready because they were trying to punch us again."
Math, Civics & Sciences Charter topped visiting Imhotep Charter, 53-50, and that final score wasn't assured until combo guard Brandon Austin, a Providence signee, missed a right-wing trey right before the buzzer.
Um, scratch that. There was no buzzer. No clock, either. With 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the scoreboard flicked off for the umpteenth time. After a lengthy discussion, during which the possibility of completing the game another day was broached, the referees, coaches and Ben Dubin, the Pub hoops chairman, reached a decision.
Will "Chilly" Williams, an MC & S assistant, would keep the score with the help of flip cards, red for Imhotep and blue for MC & S. The time would be kept by Jaire Chance, a senior and one of Imhotep's managers. How? On his cellphone. Yes, on his cellphone. And Jake Schwartz, the PA announcer, would bellow out the countdown at the end of each quarter.
All together now . . . Only in the Pub!
"The whole game was crazy," Worthem correctly assessed.
A crowd that filled every nook and cranny of the gym at the ol' Berean Institute, at 19th and Girard, was on hand (many others were turned away), and senior wing guard Britton Lee had a chance to seal the win with 5 seconds remaining. Instead, he hit only the first part of a double-bonus and that left things up to Austin.
His shot wound up being a banker. It came close enough to make all fans of the Mighty Elephants gulp, hard, and then go, "Pheeeeewwwww!";
"Brandon Austin, he's a big-time player and he makes big-time shots," Worthem said. "He had a nice look on that one. I thought it was going down, but it bounced out on him."
As the ball thumped off the rim, MC & S players, coaches and fans exploded in joy. This is the school's seventh season as a PL member and the win was its first over Imhotep.
"We thought about moving this to a bigger place," said assistant coach Lonnie Diggs, also the athletic director. "But if we do that, we give up the homecourt advantage."
Worthem had a mixed-bag performance. Though he managed only one field goal, he used a 12-for-17 performance at the line to finish with 14 points. He also notched eight rebounds and two steals.
On a team packed with transfers (both new and old; ditto for Imhotep), Worthem is a 4-year Mighty Elephant. And he relishes the job that means he's required to perform.
"My role is to lead these guys to victory," he said. "I have to get them to play hard. Have to show them I have faith in them. Have to show them I've got their backs. We've added a big guard, a sniper, a leader, a defender . . . Now we have a good overall team."
Early, Worthem allowed the atmosphere to get the best of him. Only 2:51 into the game, he was slapped with a tech for exchanging not-so-friendly barbs with Imhotep's Nigel Grant. He, too, was hit with one.
"The ref said he wanted to stop that stuff early," Worthem said, "so things didn't get worse. I understood. Coming back out, I had to have a different approach.
"Man, this place is a cave. The MC & S Cave. We knew it would be a battle. Intense atmosphere. Two great teams. Small gym. We just had to grind it out."
And early in the third quarter, assistant Che Perry had to walk down to the north-end basket, at which Imhotep was shooting, and rein in MC & S' cheerleaders. During free throws, they were screaming and/or waving their arms and Perry told the gals, "You gotta knock it off or the refs said we're gettin' a tech."
At times, the teams appeared to be wearing blindfolds. They combined to shoot 33-for-113 from the floor (29 percent) and some of the misses almost caused lumps to appear on the backboards. Austin especially struggled, going 3-for-20 (with one of the makes a dunk).
He and guard Abraham Massaley, formerly of MC & S (and Prep Charter before that), halved 28 points. No one else had more than seven. Austin did claim 18 rebounds and make five steals.
For MC & S, guard Malik Starkes matched Worthem with 14 points (all in the second half; two treys included). Quadir Welton, a St. Peter's signee, claimed nine rebounds. The imports from Roman Catholic, Lee (also a Robert Morris signee) and Shafeek Taylor, were crucial to the win. Lee had 11 points and four assists while Taylor mixed nine boards, five assists and three steals.
Though MC & S built a nine-point lead, at 47-38, clutch plays by Austin and Massaley fueled a comeback that sniffed all-the-way-back status.
Worthem, who lives on McKean, near 21st, in South Philly, was watched by numerous relatives. Lump, however, did not expect much interaction as the night proceeded.
"I'm gonna get something to eat, take a nice bath, and then get some rest," he said. "This was a dogfight. One of the best I've ever been involved in, especially since we came out on top."
As he talked, he almost had a lump in his throat.