Murphy Gershman posted up his defender, who was 4 inches taller.
He called for the ball, waited for the pass, but it never came.
Instead, a teammate turned the ball over.
Pima College was trailing Glendale Community College late and had no room for error.
A timeout was called, and Gershman walked to the bench.
He sat down next to four of his teammates, all to his left. Then, he turned to his right, lifted his right arm and smacked the seat of the empty chair next to him. Then again.
He had already scored 32 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but Pima was about to lose its third straight game.
That’s not quite an anomaly, considering Pima basketball’s not-so-illustrious history. But coach Brian Peabody is trying to change that.
So is Gershman, the most unlikely success story on a surprisingly good team. The Aztecs were 9-10 before Saturday night’s game at Eastern Arizona.
“He’s what Pima basketball is all about,” Peabody said. “He’s just a blue-collar, no-nonsense type of guy. He just brings his lunch pail to work every day.”
And before he joined the Aztecs over the summer, he literally brought a lunch pail to work every day.
Gershman is 24, having graduated from Tucson High in 2007. And for most of the last five years, he worked, full-time, as a handyman.
Gershman had given Pima a shot once before.
He enrolled at Pima — not as an athlete, just a student — shortly after graduating from Tucson High. It didn’t take long for him to conclude that college wasn’t for him.
So Gershman got a job instead, first at Ace Hardware, then working for his father in the home remodeling business.
Gershman took over the business when his father stopped working.
“Remodeling was the ultimate goal,” he said. “But when you first start out, you take what you can get. So there was a lot of plumbing, and little kind of things on the side to make some money.”
He played basketball for fun, competing in a YMCA men’s league on weekends and the occasional pick-up games at lunchtime.
Sometimes, Jerry Ledesma played in those pick-up games, too. He was already pretty familiar with Gershman — Ledesma’s son, Steve, was a former standout at Salpointe Catholic, and the two young men remained friends.
One day last summer, after one of those lunch-time pick-ups, Ledesma went to Gershman and asked him what he was doing, why had he never played in college.
Gershman never liked school, he said. When he tried college briefly after high school, it just didn’t click.
Plus, “he was kind of a knucklehead coming out of high school, so he never played,” Ledesma said. “I told him, ‘Murphy, you’re good enough, man, good enough to play.”
Ledesma called a friend, his son’s old high school coach. Peabody answered, and listened.
Peabody told Ledesma to describe Gershman’s game, his skill set.
Well, Ledesma said, he can shoot, rebound. He’s fundamental around the basket. He’s a little bit slow right now, maybe a little overweight, but he works hard.
Peabody wanted to see Gershman at the team’s tryout, at 7 a.m. the next morning.
“To be totally honest,” Ledesman said, “I thought it was a maybe 50-50 chance he’d show up.”
Well, he did. And Gershman was happy to be there.
In fact, he said it was the most fun he had playing basketball in a long time.
“It took me a little while,” Gershman said. “It was quite a change going back to school and everything. But I just went to those workouts every morning, and there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to play.”
First, though, he had to get in shape.
“I showed up for the workout, nearly died,” he said, laughing. “I thought I was in decent shape, but at the end, he said as long as I committed to getting back into shape and being a part of the team, I could play.”
Peabody needed Gershman as much as Gershman needed Peabody.
Hired by the Aztecs in April, Peabody inherited a program that had only one winning season in the last 11 years and ended 2013 on an 18-game losing streak.
Peabody had to start from scratch, too.
There are no players from last year’s team on this year’s squad, and the team’s lone sophomore — Tyler D’Amore — is really only at Pima because of football.
Gershman is thriving: He currently ranks fourth in the ACCAC in scoring (20.4 points per game), first in rebounds (10.6) and fourth in three-point shooting (46.3 percent).
Oh, and he carries a 3.8 GPA.
Peabody said finding Gershman is “the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“You can’t find a guy that plays the way that he plays. He’ll do all of the dirty work and never complains. It’s been a match made in heaven for me.”
For Gershman, too.
He already has three offers from Division II schools. The ultimate goal is electrical engineering, his major. The backup plan? Journalism.
With school, practice and games, he has had less time for handywork. But, he still squeezes in the occasional job.
“He did some work on our house this summer,” Ledesma said. “My wife says he needs to come back: She’s got some more work for him. He does a good job.”
His best remodeling job yet? Easy — his basketball career.
“I didn’t think I could make it. It’s been a long time since I’ve really, really played basketball,” Gershman said. “I figured college basketball was not something I was quite ready for.
“I had no idea what to expect coming into it. I never envisioned I would be right here.”