Your Sport: Love of basketball turns into career for Laurinburg’s Gilbert Abraham
Stephen Schramm, Staff writer; Oct 1, 2016
Gilbert Abraham had worked as an instructor at a handful of Raymond Felton’s camps before he finally got to actually meet the longtime NBA point guard and former North Carolina star.
It was the summer of 2012, in a gym in Myrtle Beach after a tournament Abraham had helped run. Felton introduced himself and said he’d heard the former St. Andrews University player and Laurinburg resident had been working as a private trainer.
Felton had just finished up a stint with the Portland Trailblazers and said he needed to get some work in. He asked if Abraham could help.
“He said, ‘Let me know what your schedule looks like,’” Abraham said with a laugh. “… I made the time.”
Abraham, 34, has worked with Felton ever since, even spending a few weeks in the offseason living in Dallas, where Felton experienced a late-career flourish with the Mavericks. He’s also become one of the state’s go-to private basketball teachers, working with high-profile prep prospects and players in elite college programs.
“He knows how to push buttons and help you grow,” said Abraham pupil and Trinity Christian sophomore Joey Baker, one of the top players in the Class of 2019.
Teaching basketball is life for Abraham, who had stints as a social studies teacher, a newspaper reporter and a college assistant coach. It’s exactly what he loves to do.
“I get to do basketball for a living,” Abraham said with a smile. “It’s pretty dope.”
The path to basketball began after Abraham, born in Germany and the son of a Nigerian government official, moved to Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs. That’s where he got his first taste of the area’s rich hoops scene, and he was hooked right away.
“When I fell in love with basketball, that was it,” Abraham said.
Growing up, he’d spend every free moment on a court, playing pick-up games or alone, clashing with imaginary foes. He was a guard for his middle school and high school teams, but he admits that his game wasn’t strong.
Effort and passion weren’t the problem, and he knew how to be flashy. What was lacking was the basics and a true grasp on what his team needed from him.
“The thing with me was, I didn’t really learn how to play,” Abraham said. “I could dunk on guys and drive by them and shoot and all that stuff, but I didn’t understand the game. … I was always searching.”
He was good enough to earn a spot on the team at St. Andrews, where his first two seasons were slowed by both injury — he took a medical redshirt prior to his sophomore year after a torn ACL — and inconsistency.
But the summer after his redshirt sophomore season, things changed.
He returned to Maryland to work a camp with decorated high school coach Mike Glick. For several days, Abraham played against elite college players. Facing the stiffest competition he’d seen to that point, he began to understand what made those players so good.
“They didn’t know it, but that’s really when I learned how to play,” Abraham said. “It was awesome.”
For Abraham, dots were being connected. He was seeing how, without a sturdy foundation of fundamentals and a wider knowledge of how his game fit into what his team was trying to do, he would never improve.
So he went back to school and got to work. His final two seasons at St. Andrews were better. In fact, they were good enough to lead to offers to play professionally in Qatar and Germany.
But Abraham decided to stay. He spent a year working as a reporter for the Laurinburg Exchange and later worked as a social studies teacher at Scotland High. Meanwhile, he was in graduate school at UNC Pembroke, where he earned a master’s degree in Public Administration.
He wasn’t finished with basketball, though. He started an AAU basketball program known as Scotland Warriors Achieving Triumph, or SWAT.
It was through SWAT that he realized how much he enjoyed teaching the game. He could give his players the kind of sound basketball education he missed out on.
But the constant fund-raising proved to be a grind, and in 2009, the program disbanded.
By then, other area coaches had noticed his ability to teach the game, and they asked them to work with some of their players. His work with Glenn Patterson, a Red Springs standout who went onto play at Elizabeth City State, got the attention of Eva Patterson-Heath, his aunt. When she became the women’s coach at Fayetteville State, she brought Abraham onto her staff.
He spent two seasons at FSU, and his early morning workouts attracted players from the men’s and women’s squads.
But his time in college was short-lived. The arrival of his first child made the travel demands of a college coach unworkable. After parting ways with the Broncos program, he decided he’d go back to teaching and work as a basketball trainer on the side.
That was around the time he crossed paths with Felton. Prior to that, he’d worked with good high school and college players, but never with an active NBA player.
Before his first workout with Felton, he used a coaching video program to dig up clips of all of the former UNC star’s offensive touches for the previous five seasons and devised a workout plan that would sharpen the things he already did well and introduce new wrinkles.
When he showed up for his first workout session, he presented Felton with a chart detailing the situations he’s usually in when he gets the ball and how he can capitalize on them. Then the pair went through a fast-paced, 500-shot training routine geared toward turning Abraham’s ideas into Felton’s instincts.
Abraham said that Felton seemed a little surprised at the complexity of Abraham’s workout.
These days, Abraham said moments like that aren’t uncommon.
“I don’t think they expect me to be this thorough,” Abraham said of the players with whom he works.
With his basketball training company, Akin Athletics, teaching basketball is his full-time job. He has a small-but-growing training roster that includes area prep standouts, college players such as North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Chase Jeter, and NBA players Kendall Marshall and Marvin Williams. He tailors training routines built around their individual games.
He spends the week working with players in Raleigh and Greensboro and occasionally travels around the country to work in instructional camps.
But he admits that he’s still a student. While he’s viewed as a basketball guru of sorts, he said his curiosity about the game is still as strong as it was when he was a hoops-mad middle schooler or a wide-eyed college player.
The only difference is that now he gets to do it for a living.
“It’s a love affair for me at this point,” Abraham said. “The more time you spend with something, the better you get.”
Staff writer Stephen Schramm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 486-3536.
Big Shots Gilbert Abraham training MJ’s nephew Justin Jordan
Kevin Schneider, Big Shots VP
Gilbert Abraham (BIG SHOTS New England Director (@Ganabraham) is an endless student and precise teacher of the game that will quickly become one of the best in basketball skill development. Happy to have him with BIG SHOTS! - Kevin Schneider
Justin Jordan 2013 6’2 PG (Davidson Day School (NC) / Carolina Surge)
An available 2013 PG with quick handles, elite athleticism, and skilled intangibles. He has an improved shooting stroke to go with his ability to create a play for himself or others. Justin is extremely coachable, a fast learner and continues to get better each day. He showcased his division 1 talents in BIG SHOTS 2011 and 2012 for Carolina Surge (coached by his father Larry Jordan). Justin is currently averaging 12 points per game this season for Davidson Day (NC) coach Joel Justus. He sports Ivy League qualifying scores at a 3.74 GPA clip and a 1600 SAT. Look for him to continue to make a name for himself and blossom into a solid division 1 player. Recently received an offer from Navy and has interest from Middle Tennesse State, Jacksonville, Niagara, Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Wofford, Radford, Marist, Gardner Webb and Furman.
@AkinAthletics is a Basketball Specific Training program. Our goal is to provide Personalized Basketball Training which will improve a player(s) basketball acumen, skill set, athleticism, nutrition, and overall development. We believe that with a well structured and planned training regiment a player can become as great as their preparation. Superior Preparation= Superior Performance #warriorflow
Gilbert has trained over 1000 players from all levels including the likes of Raymond Felton (New York Knicks), Jaleek Felton (2017 Top 25), Isaiah Briscoe (2015 Top 25), Stephon Platt (WSSU CIAA tournament MVP,) Milone Clark (New York Knicks) & more.
Gilbert is the BIG SHOTS New England Director and will be hosting several BIG SHOTS 2013 events in the New England region.
The science of basketball success
by Jason Chisari
The sport of basketball isn’t just a game to current Carver Middle School teacher and coach Gilbert Abraham: It’s an artform, one which can teach an abundance of life lessons to those who are willing to put forth the effort.
Current Flora McDonald Academy student athlete and Laurinburg native Forrest Johnson was 10 years-old when he first began working with Abraham. Now a rising senior and with a slew of NCAA division I scholarship offers to sift through, Johnson credits Abraham’s calculating approach to the game of basketball as the primary reason for the success he’s currently enjoying.
“When I first started playing I didn’t know anything about the game, and it’s all because of Abraham that I have these amazing opportunities coming my way,” Johnson said. “He teaches you how to apply the game to your life, and how to first accomplish your goals mentally so physically you can push yourself farther than you ever thought possible.”
Carver eighth-grade basketball standouts Jasmine Jesse and Jordan Ratliffe, who are both under Abraham’s tutelage, recently made the trip to Charlotte for a one-day event hosted by Abraham called the “Intimidators Basketball Clinic.” On-hand to instruct the young athletes that day were Alan Stein, Micah Lancaster and Blair O’Donovan, three of the most accomplished professionals trainers in the world who have worked with names such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwayne Wade.
Working with Abraham on a weekly basis, Jesse and Ratliffe are no strangers to the assortment of grueling, unorthodox drills that are thrown their way. But even Jesse was surprised when Stein opened his three-hour training session by asking everyone in attendance to take off their shoes.
“It was to teach us the importance of our ankles and feet, and also how important it is to properly stretch before you play,” said Jesse, who was the starting point guard for the Carver Eagles this past season. “The whole experience was exciting, and we saw a bunch of techniques that we’ve never seen before.”
The second leg of the clinic was hosted by Lancaster, who led students through a series of dribbling exercises designed to improve hand-eye coordination and off-the-ball quickness. Ratliffe most fondly recalls a drill that saw him complete a series of tasks all while bouncing a tennis ball in rhythm.
“You wouldn’t expect to see something like that, but it really helped,” said Ratliffe, whose older brothers Trenton and Sherwin have both studied under Abraham. “It goes back to the training that coach Abraham gives you, and how things you might not think would work make you a better player in the end.”
The arsenal of tools and professional connections that Abraham has collected come from years of being a “student of the game,” in his own words. Abraham has been hired for his coaching and developmental skills in a variety of different positions, including as an assistant varsity and junior varsity basketball coach at Scotland High School, and most recently as the assistant women’s basketball coach at Fayetteville State University, where he helped the lady Broncos win a CIAA conference championship in his 2009-10 inaugural season. And last summer, Abraham worked with current Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Jeff Capel on the advanced mechanics of basketball, absorbing strategies that he himself had not experienced prior.
It’s all means to an end for Abraham, who is currently seeking young players like Jesse and Ratliffe who have both the mentality and drive to process the game at a higher level. He only asks that the passion is there.
“I’m a basketball nerd in terms of playbooks and concepts, I collect and share information like crazy,” said Abraham, who is a St. Andrews University alumni. “Plenty of people out there can really like something until they realize the hard work it takes to become great at it, and with kids like Jasmine and Jordan, they work to the best of their ability because they want to be great. I can only give them the tools, they have to have the heart to use them.”
When he looks at his training sessions with Abraham, even Ratliff admits to feeling the crunch of a particularly exhausting workout, citing a drill called “seven” as being one of the most strenuous. In order to complete the drill, Ratliff must make a series of seven shots from around the perimeter, and for each shot missed, he must sprint to half-court and back before attempting to make the shot again.
Johnson remembers the fatigue and exhaustion from his time with Abraham all too well. But more importantly, he remembers the invaluable skills that he learned and still applies to this day. And for those who are looking to fully cultivate their love for basketball, Johnson assures the effort it takes to get there is wholly worth it.
“You have to give 110 percent effort with coach Abraham, that’s all he asks of you,” Johnson said. “I’d tell the kids who want to learn from him to put their trust in him, because he has your best interests at heart. Do the work and I promise he’ll put you in the right direction.”
Young hoopers train with the Pros
On April 15, 2012 three of Scotland County’s best basketball players along with others from all over ventured to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Intimidators Basketball Clinic. The Clinic featured two of the best basketball trainers in the world in Alan Stein and Micah Lancaster. Alan Stein is the owner of Stronger Team (www.StrongerTeam.com) and the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the internationally renowned Nike Elite DeMatha Catholic High School basketball program. Micah Lancaster (www.MicahLancaster.com) is a world renowned basketball skill development trainer who has worked with players at all levels – grassroots to pros – including Kobe Bryant and most recently working with Dwayne Wade, Mario Chalmers, Kyrie Irving, and Nolan Smith.
Forrest Johnson (Flora McDonald Academy), Jasmine Jesse (Carver Middle School) and Jordan Ratliffe (Carver Middle School) of Scotland County displayed great character and toughness as they challenged themselves throughout the day; barreling right into all the drills and high level instruction from the professionals.
Trainer and Coach Gilbert Abraham of Akin Athletics, LLC (www.AkinAthletics.com) hosted the event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Abraham stated, “It is my goal to expose basketball players to the best teaching and training possible, so that they might achieve all of the goals that they aspire to accomplish.” Abraham and Akin Athletics accomplished exactly what they set out to do. Athletes and coaches in attendance were exposed to the best training that they could receive. Abraham went on to say, “I am just so thrilled that my friends and colleagues (Stein & Lancaster) were able to come down and be a part of this clinic.”
In addition to the youths that came to Queen City for the clinic, coaches and trainers from the professional and college ranks down to middle school came to learn and take notes from the best. Additionally, players, parents, and coaches from outside of North Carolina drove in from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland for the star studded clinic.
To start the clinic Trainer Alan Stein introduced himself and explained the nature of the training that players were about to experience, all of which was completed without bouncing a basketball. Stein had players take off their shoes and he then demonstrated for them several foot and ankle strengthening exercises. Stein stated, “Your feet and ankles are your foundation; without them you cannot do anything in sports.” Stein challenged the athletes’ balance, mental fortitude, mobility, communication skills, core strength, dexterity and spirit for three hours of intense instruction.
For the second portion of the clinic Micah Lancaster began his training with partner dribbling and challenged the players’ abilities to dribble, utilize their dexterity in both hands, pass and stay compressed as they handled the basketball and preformed a multitude of tasks. Lancaster moreover challenged the players in ways that they had never been exposed to and gave the athletes tools to be effective in the future with his dynamic instruction and presentation.
All in all, the entire event was a success and according to Abraham it will most likely be an annual event. “I am very happy with the turnout; I am just saddened that more of the players in Scotland County where I reside were not able to benefit from this experience. I plan on doing this again next year and having several events of this nature throughout the year,” said Abraham.
Moreover, the Intimidators Basketball Clinic came one day after the Jordan Classic which was televised on ESPN and featured Alan Stein on the East team and Blair O’Donovan (Stronger Team) on the West team. Additionally, Rodney Purvis(Word of God) All-American and is a noted trainee of Micah Lancaster and NC State commit, started at Point Guard for the East in the Jordan Classic.
Alan Stein is a performance consultant for Nike Basketball as well as the head conditioning coach for the annual Jordan Brand All American Classic and the Nike Summer Skills Academies. Alan is a Camp Coach at the prestigious NBA Players Association’s Top 100 Camp as well as the Chris Paul CP3 Elite Backcourt Camp. He served as the conditioning coach for the McDonald’s All American game for 5 years.
Alan & Lancaster have filmed over a dozen DVD’s on improving basketball specific performance and are sought after lecturers at basketball camps and clinics across the world.