MILWAUKEE — Luke Worthington looks more like Rob Lowe than Alice Cooper, but it’s worth repeating the epic line from “Wayne’s World,” where the rock legend is asked if Milwaukee is an Indian name.
“Yes, Pete, it is,” Cooper says. “In fact, it's pronounced Mill-e-wah-que, which is Algonquin for ‘the good land.’"
Close enough. Historians say it’s Potawatomi for “fine land,” but Worthington, a BYU freshman from Milwaukee, agrees either way. The Cougars are playing on Thursday against Oregon in a very good land — NCAA Land. His family moved to Wisconsin when he was in grade school and he graduated from Homestead High School.
So naturally the question arises: How does he pronounce Milwaukee? (Wisconsinites tend to drop a couple of letters and pronounce it Mwaukee.)
“I always called it Milwaukee or Mill Town, or some of the funky names they’ve got down here, but Milwaukee is pretty basic for me,” Worthington said. “I don’t call it anything too funky.”
Any way you say it, it’s home to him.
“I was going to ask him if we could stay in his house,” coach Dave Rose said earlier this week, after pairings were announced, “but his family moved to Florida.”
Worthington’s return is the classic homecoming story. A high school star in Mequon, 18 miles north of the Bradley Center, he was the No. 7-rated player in the state as a senior. His father was an executive with the Kohl’s department chain. The family moved to Florida after Luke’s graduation.
Since then, he has gone on to play for the Cougars, logging as many as 22 minutes in a game. He finished the season averaging a point and a rebound. Those aren’t high numbers, but his job has been to come off the bench — or start — in order to keep Eric Mika out of foul trouble.
He wasn’t recruited by Wisconsin or Marquette, the two big basketball powers in the state.
“They kind of already had their big man situations all figured out,” Worthington said.
Kind of like BYU.
Any self-respecting, 6-foot-10 power forward is good with them. Worthington’s job: battle with the brutes in the paint.
He got his first collegiate start in a February game against Portland and followed with starts against San Diego and LMU. Worthington injured his shoulder Feb. 15 at Saint Mary’s but played relatively well anyway.
It wasn’t a big problem. Wisconsin people love adverse conditions.
“He’s told us 40 degrees here is a lot colder than 40 degrees in Provo,” said guard Skyler Halford.
Milwaukee was in the 30s with light snow on Wednesday as the Cougars worked out.
Practically summer to Worthington.
“It can get pretty miserable here in winter,” he said. “I don’t think winter ends until the end of April.”
But Wisconsin is famous for things other than weather. For instance, cheese, bratwurst and custard.
“I like it all,” he said. “It’s a lot fried food, a lot of stuff covered in cheese. They make it as unhealthy as possible. But it’s definitely good.”
At his age, he can still eat at Kopp’s, Mader’s or Culvers and feel good about his calories.
“There are a lot of good places,” he said.
One other famous Wisconsin commodity he knows: Rick Majerus. Several friends attended the former Utah coach’s camps when they were growing up.
“They said he was an interesting guy,” Worthington said.
Many of those friends will be in attendance on Thursday at the Bradley Center.
“I think it’s a plus in a lot of ways,” Worthington said. “I used to come here to watch the Bucks’ games. I’ve been to the Bradley Center probably a hundred times. It will be fun to come back and be on a floor I’m familiar with and kind of cool being in this arena. For me it's been all good.”
Worthington is unlikely to see serious minutes. In BYU’s December overtime loss to Oregon he never left the bench — one of four games in which he didn’t see action. He had his best statistical game against Santa Clara, scoring seven points and adding two rebounds in 10 minutes.
Play or not play, he said he hopes to get a chance to go out to dinner with friends this week and “get some good, hearty Wisconsin food.”
Wayne, Garth and Alice should be along any time.
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