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REACTION : Coach's Arrest Shakes CSUN

At Northridge, They're Searching for Answers

October 29, 1998|STEVE HENSON and ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORTHRIDGE — Judith Brame was ecstatic when Michael Abraham was hired in 1995, believing he was "the whole package," a charismatic coach who could turn around the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team.

On Wednesday, Brame, Northridge's associate athletic director, was in shock.

Abraham was arrested Tuesday night by the FBI and charged with conspiracy to distribute at least 50 grams of crack cocaine. If convicted, he faces a maximum term of life in prison.

Brame echoed the sentiment of most people associated with the program when she said the charges seem out of character for a coach who last season led the team to its first .500 season since Northridge joined Division I in 1990.

"Players are very fond of Michael Abraham and came to Northridge to play for him," Brame said. "To the student-athletes, he truly was the head of a family. I am completely stunned."

No wonder. Brame had come full circle. She was chairman of the committee that recommended hiring Abraham, and Wednesday had to break the news to the team that their coach was behind bars.

The new coach? Brame, 58, who coached the Matadors for eight of their first nine seasons, resigning in 1983 with a record of 101-89.

Athletic Director Paul Bubb asked her to become acting head coach while Abraham is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.

"I'm going to talk about basketball to the team and try to provide some leadership in what will be a very difficult time," she said.

Although allegations of NCAA rules violations followed Abraham to Northridge from Oregon State, where he was an assistant for five years, Bubb said he had not heard rumors of involvement with drugs.

Abraham, 39, took over a Northridge squad that was one of the worst in Division I. The Matadors were 1-26 in 1994-95, the season before he arrived. The team was 5-22 and 4-23 in Abraham's first two seasons but turned the corner last season, going 14-14, including a 9-7 record and third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference.

Northridge's recruiting class in 1996 was rated 19th in the nation by Blue Star Report, and last season Abraham brought in Edneisha Curry, a guard from Palmdale High who led the Big Sky in scoring and was selected a freshman All-American.

"Coach Michael and I became real good friends, we have a real close relationship," Curry said last season. "He made me a better player by pushing me to improve my shot. I know he has total confidence in me."

On Wednesday, Curry was among a stream of downcast Matador players emerging from a team meeting with tears welling in their eyes. The coach charged with turning around the program had turned it upside down.

The team released a statement that read in part: "We feel like we lost a member of our family. We are all shocked . . . [but] we believe in our hearts he will be back, coaching our program."

Abraham is married and has two young children. His wife, Trisonya, gave birth to the couple's second child, Michael John Jr., on Oct. 16, two days before the basketball team began official practices. The Abrahams have a 2-year-old daughter, Amirah.

The Abrahams met at Long Beach State when he was an assistant basketball coach and she played middle blocker on the 49ers' national champion volleyball team.

Trisonya was an assistant volleyball coach at Northridge in 1995. She is a professional sports agent, representing, among others, Margo Dydek of the Utah Starzz, at 7 feet 2 the tallest player in women's basketball.

Abraham pointed out that as an assistant at Long Beach State and Oregon State, he coached five guards who went on to professional careers. Curry, he believes, will be the next.

"First we are going to win the Big Sky Conference and bring Northridge to the NCAA tournament for the first time," Curry said last season.

For now, any plans that include Abraham are on hold.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Michael John Abraham

* Born: June 7, 1959

* Family: Married, two children

* Coaching career: Head coach, Cal State Northridge, 1995 to present; assistant, Oregon State, 1991-95; assistant, Long Beach State, 1984-90; head coach, St. Mary's High, Portland, Ore., 1978-84

* Education: Bachelor's degree, Portland State, 1984

* Record at Northridge:

*--*

Year Overall Conf. '95-96 5-22 *1-5 '96-97 4-23 **2-14 '97-98 14-14 **9-7

*--*

*American West Conference

**Big Sky Conference

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