Varsity head coach Melvin Abrams has chance to lead son on court
By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- There was a point in time when Melvin Abrams was absent from his son's life for extended periods of time.
Abrams, a basketball standout at Division II Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, N.C., was pursuing a chance to play basketball at the professional level after graduating in 1997. Abrams spent two years after college serving stints in various basketball leagues, including the Continental Basketball Association, the National Basketball Development League and the United States Basketball League.
Although Abrams' childhood dream of playing in the NBA was slightly out of reach, he saw an opportunity to play basketball professionally outside of the United States and took it. That was in 2001, and Kenya Ray-Abrams, born in the middle of his father's stellar collegiate career, spent much of his early childhood without his father.
"There was point in time when, because of my profession, that I was gone a lot," Abrams said. "Once I started playing professionally, I was gone seven or eight months out of the year. And there was a gap there where I wasn't around as much as I probably should have been."
But those days are now in the past, and the sport that once kept Abrams and his son thousands of miles apart is now the cornerstone of their relationship.
Abrams' professional basketball career ended in the early summer of 2008 after he played for six different teams in Venezuela, Croatia, Lithuania, Israel and Bulgaria. In August of that same year, Abrams took a job at Massanutten Military Academy as an assistant coach under former Colonels post-graduate basketball coach, and good friend, Cedrick Broadhurst.
Four years later, Abrams is the athletic director for MMA and the head coach of the boys varsity basketball team -- and Kenya is one of his players.
What was once a long-distance relationship has turned into a unique bond that has brought the pair closer than ever, and they have basketball to thank.
"It is a common ground where we can actually interact," Abrams said. "It's been a blessing for me because I've always wanted to have a part in my son's life, and I think when we get older we'll go back on this and have stories to talk about."
"I definitely think it makes it stronger," Kenya Ray-Abrams added. "If we're not on good terms, we can always go back and ask, 'How was the game?,' or something and it gives us something to talk about. I definitely think that basketball and sports makes our relationship closer."
Abrams never had the opportunity to coach his son until last season, when he took over the job as head coach of the boys varsity program.
Abrams admits that, as a coach, he treats his son differently than he does other players on the team.
"It's probably tougher on him because I have higher expectations for him anyway ... because he's my son, I tend to be on him a little harder," Abrams said. "I give equal opportunity, though. I give it to everybody, but I know him, and I know what he's capable of, so I tend to push him a little bit harder."
Ray-Abrams has become a leader for the Colonels on the court over the last several seasons, but the senior admits that basketball wasn't always a passion. Football was his first love, and it wasn't until he was in sixth or seventh grade that Ray-Abrams began to embrace basketball.
Basketball now ranks as Ray-Abrams' favorite sport, and he credits his father with helping him strengthen various aspects of his game. Ray-Abrams and his father would often hit the court during the summers in Charlotte, N.C., while Abrams was still playing professionally overseas, and the pair would work on different drills.
"When we used to do skill development, he knows everything that needs to be done, what position I needed to play in," Ray-Abrams said. "I do think that him playing at a high level really helped me with my skill set."
But the relationship between father and son isn't always friendly, and Abrams struggles to hide a smile when asked about the competitive nature between he and his son.
The two compete against each other in everything from 1-on-1 competitions to various shooting games, but the contests are usually one-sided. Ray-Abrams estimated that his father is 9-0 against him in 1-on-1 games, but Abrams said the number is probably higher.
Still, Ray-Abrams isn't losing hope that he will one day get the best of his old man.
"He's getting a little hard on the feet, so he isn't trying to play me 1-on-1 like that anymore," Ray-Abrams said with a grin. "I'm going to beat him before it's all said and done."
Whether that day comes sooner or later, the pair will continue to enjoy the time spent on the court together, whether it's competing against each other or as members of the MMA varsity squad.
But for Abrams, the impact that basketball has made off the court may be the most important of all.
"I don't necessarily know if you can make up for lost time, but it's been a blessing," Abrams said of the opportunity to coach his son. "Every child, every son wants their father in their lives, whether they know it or not. So I think for both of us it has been an opportunity to get to know each other on a greater level. He's gotten to see me in so many different facets -- as a teacher, as a coach, as a father, somebody who is an educator to other people."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org