THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Abrams is looking for a critical assist

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 6, 2010

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Ask anyone. Nothing has ever intimidated Danya Abrams on the basketball court. He is a man’s man down in the low post, utilizing every aspect of his 6-foot-6-inch, 250-poundish body in an area of the court where many larger guys fear to tread.

“He may have been the toughest guy I ever coached,’’ says Jim O’Brien. “He’d be down in that low post, and even though they’d be fouling him, you’d see a guy from the other team walking out of the pack holding some body part.’’

But right now the former Boston College great is at the mercy of two forces he can’t control: the first is the charm of his 11-year-old daughter, Tatyana, and the second an insidious disease.

Tatyana Abrams has acute myelogenous leukemia. She should be home in Avon with Danya, mom Deanna, and younger brothers Danya Jr. and Christian. But for the second time in her life, she is residing in Children’s Hospital, awaiting a bone marrow transplant that would save her life.

“This is the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,’’ says her dad. “When I first found out, I was devastated. Nothing prepares you for this.’’

Tatyana was diagnosed with AML in September 2008. She spent the next eight months at Children’s, undergoing chemotherapy, until that happy day in May 2009 when her parents were told there were no cancerous cells in her body and she was officially in remission.

It was an enjoyable spring, summer, and fall for the Abrams family, and Danya was making preparations to resume his basketball career, which has been spent in Spain and Greece since his graduation from BC in 1997.

But that all changed on Dec. 8.

“That’s when we were told there had been a relapse,’’ Abrams says. “The cancer had returned.’’

Danya Abrams is now retired. “A no-brainer,’’ he says.

This time, chemo would not be an option. In a situation like this, chemo, to borrow a current basketball phrase, is a one-and-done procedure. This time the only option for Tatyana Abrams is a bone-marrow transplant.

The timetable? Today. Tomorrow. The next five minutes. You get the picture.

There will be a Bone Marrow Drive Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Ralph D. Butler Elementary School at 1 Patrick Clark Drive in Avon. Timing is everything, and what sports fan doesn’t know that the Patriots will be playing the Ravens at 1 p.m. in Foxborough that day? But there’s no way the drive could have been scheduled around that 1-in-4 possibility. The Patriots could have played Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, or Sunday night. No one knew.

Danya wants everyone to know that the procedure won’t take long, and it won’t hurt, either.

“No needles,’’ he promises. “Just a swab in the cheek with a Q-tip and you’re on your way.’’

Danya’s goal is to find that needle-in-a-haystack donor for his daughter. But it goes far beyond that. He wants to spark awareness that potential donors are needed to serve the public in general, and that the data base can never be large enough.

“It’s not just about my daughter,’’ he says. “There are many others out there who are in need of a transplant every day.’’

And while the appeal is 100 percent inclusive, it must be emphasized that the specific need in this case is for an African-American donor.

I have not had the honor of meeting this wonderful little girl, but I knew her dad when he played at BC, and he is one of my all-time favorites, not simply because I loved his throwback rock-em, sock-em style in the low post, but also because in the course of 40-plus years of dealing with collegiate athletes, he ranks in the top percentile of classy young men. Danya Abrams was uncommonly mature. I always felt I was conversing with an adult.

So it didn’t surprise me when he took so readily to a life in Europe. I knew he would embrace the good and work around the bad.

For the right guy, European basketball is a rewarding experience.

“Sure, I would have loved to play in the NBA,’’ Abrams says (he made it to the end of a Spurs training camp, where he lost out to Malik Rose), “but I wouldn’t change anything about my career.’’

Jim O’Brien wouldn’t change anything about Danya Abrams, either.

“He was just a joy to coach,’’ O’Brien recalls. “The thing you most remember in thinking about your players is, ‘Was he a good teammate?’ and he was an excellent teammate. He always looked out for the others.

“There is so much to celebrate about him. On the court, he’s tough. Off the court, he’s like a big teddy bear with a heart of gold. And the very best thing about coaching is when your players stay in touch, and Danya has always stayed in close touch. So that makes him ‘your guy.’ ’’

Tatyana Abrams should not be in Children’s Hospital. She should be living what Danya terms a “normal childhood life.’’ This vibrant, intelligent little girl should be back in the sixth grade at Ralph Butler. She should be seeing Mrs. Shanks-Correia, Mr. Bothelho, and Miss Bibbo on a daily basis. She should be hanging out with Lindsay, Jamie, Molly, and what often seems to Danya and Deanna as her thousands of other friends.

And she will - as soon as they find that match. And guess what. It could be you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.