Kecoughtan connection reunites Ngongba, Conrad at Radford
Radford's Tajama Ngongba was named Big South coach of the year at the end of the 2010-11 season. (Ken Charnock - Dig It Up Sports, Daily Press / July 30, 2011)
More than 15 years had passed. Back then, Tajama Abraham was an all-everything basketball player at Kecoughtan High. Jennifer Conrad was 5, dressed in school colors, and cheering for the Warriors basketball and football teams coached by her dad.
Now, in a confluence Jennifer steadfastly believes was choreographed in the heavens, she and TJ are co-workers, Ngongba (Abraham's married name) the women's basketball coach at Radford, Conrad her new director of operations.
"What are the odds?" Ngongba said from her native St. Croix, where this summer she is coaching the U.S. Virgin Islands' national team.
Ngongba wouldn't have accepted the national team challenge — the Virgin Islands opens play Wednesday in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation championships in the Bahamas — were she not supremely confident in her staff back home.
A 2005 Kecoughtan graduate, Conrad joined the Highlanders' staff full-time earlier this month after earning a history degree from Radford. As a student, she served as a team manager, the same role she filled for her father's teams.
"She was beyond just a manager," Ngongba said. "She was always in the office helping out. Very sharp, on time. She was organized to the point where she'd be one step ahead of me. I love that. I love people that I work with that are one step ahead of me."
Here's how Conrad and Ngongba reconnected.
Conrad transferred from Chowan, where she was a football manager, to Radford for the 2008 fall semester. Unbeknownst to her, the Highlanders had just hired Ngongba, a college star at George Washington who played professionally in the WNBA and France.
Searching for another managing gig, Conrad wandered into a women's basketball scrimmage. She did a double-take.
"I kept looking at the coach," Conrad said. "She looked really familiar, but I couldn't exactly place her. Then I was like, 'Man, that looks like TJ.' "
An Internet search confirmed her hunch, and a couple days later Conrad approached Ngongba.
"Hey, I know you probably don't remember me, but I'm a ghost from your past."
"I'm looking at her Chowan shirt and thinking, 'Why would I know anyone from Chowan?' " Ngongba recalled.
"I'm Coach Conrad's daughter."
"My mouth almost went to the floor," Ngongba said. "The last vision I had of Jenny is in this green-and-white cheerleader outfit that she wore at the games. And now this grown woman is in front of me saying, 'I'm Jenny.' And I'm like, 'No you're not. You're supposed to be 3 years old.' "
Ngongba immediately hired Conrad as a volunteer manager, but midway through the season, in January 2009, Revis Conrad passed away. He was 66, a decade removed from an 18-year coaching career at Kecoughtan.
"The last thing he said to me when he was still coherent was, 'Don't let Taj down, and I love you,' " Conrad said. "Once he passed away, everything was crazy. So I needed to get a real job to have real money.