If any of the remaining porcelain figurines in Patti Mabrey’s collections could talk, chances are they would confide about the constant fear in which they once lived.
They would reminisce about the ones they’ve lost, innocently placed on a table only to be rocked from their resting place before crashing to the floor and shattering into pieces.
Others wouldn’t have to even speak. The subtly crooked contours of their bodies tell their tales, as does the hint of glue used to reconstruct those fortunate enough to be among the somewhat repairable.
They all now reside in safe keeping…except for one that’s barely noticeable to visitors. It’s set high above the kitchen atop a cabinet and seems to be peaking over the woodwork almost in fear that an errant basketball could somehow find its way into the tight quarters and claim it as the next victim.
Nothing is safe in the Mabrey home. The hardwood floors are too inviting, and quite apropos, for a family that boasts five children – Roy Jr., Michaela, Marina, Dara and Ryan – all of whom play basketball. The surface is ideal to polish a crossover or hone one’s shooting release, something that has left the ceiling of the living room pocked with the scuff marks that give the impression the interior decorator was a not from “Better Homes and Gardens” but a salesman pushing the Wilson Wave.
Patti and Roy Mabrey, Sr. came to grips a long time ago with the inevitable damage their kids may wreak on the household. The loss of a figurine is a small price to pay and just one of the many sacrifices made to facilitate their kids’ primary endeavor.
“Athletics was a part of everything,” Roy Sr. said. “When we got married and had kids, we just laced that through and the forum was basketball. It could have been anything. For us, it wasn’t that we had a basketball lineage. We needed a forum for sports and somehow we found basketball and lucked out that they all liked it.”
And, the basketball is the perfect shape for a close-knit unit whose life revolves around it.
Today, Roy Jr, who played in high school at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, is a 6-2 freshman guard at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire while Michaela, a 5-11 senior guard, and Marina, a 5-10 freshman swing, are performing at a high rate for unbeaten Manasquan, the No. 1 team in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 power rankings. Dara, 12 and Ryan, 9, both attend and play at the St. Catharine School in Spring Lake, where their mom is the athletic director.
But, to fully appreciate where they are now, you have to trace their paths back to the beginning, when Roy Jr. gravitated to the game and, unknowingly, blazed a trail his siblings would follow.
He was introduced to basketball like a lot of other kids, playing in the local rec league in Belmar. And, as the family grew, the pattern became familiar. One after the other would join an older sibling in the narrow driveway, shooting until dusk and sometimes well after, much to the neighbors’ occasional chagrin. But, as they grew bigger, a new venue was needed to fully develop their skills.
Orchard Park is one of those well-kept secrets. A cozy facility in Wall Township with a couple of courts accessible only through a bike trail, it’s the perfect setting to get work accomplished undisturbed. However, this was a labor of love and one demanding of physical condition, something perfectly suited for Roy Sr., an accomplished triathlon competitor.
“I would take Marina and Michaela by myself and all we use to do was run up and down and play full court,” Roy Sr. recalled.
The park carried significance on many levels.
It’s where the Mabreys first encountered Tom Flaherty, who was on the adjacent court one day working with his own daughter Katelyn. The two families instantly connected, joining forces in games that lasted two or three hours, playing up to 100 by ones.
They are still bound through basketball; Katelyn, a 5-7 sophomore guard, operates in the backcourt with her two close friends at Manasquan, where Tom is an assistant coach under Felix Romero.
When Michaela decided to make her college choice this past summer, she deemed it only fitting to have both families convene at Orchard Park before placing a call to South Bend, Indiana to make a verbal commitment to Notre Dame. Afterwards, the only thing that streamed more than the tears were the jumpers as everyone stayed to enjoy a celebratory shoot-around.
“We all went down there because that is where we played countless hours,” Michaela said. ``It was a special moment and I wanted to spend it with the people I love at the place that that meant so much to us. That’s basically where we all grew up.”
The Mabreys aren’t the only family to produce multiple children who thrive at one particular sport. But, the novelty is the varying styles in which they play.
Roy Jr., who attended St. Thomas More, a prep school in Connecticut before arriving at St. Anselm, is the hustler, always toiling hard on and off the ball. His work ethic has been exemplary for not only his younger siblings but for St. Anselm, where he’s averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 31 minutes for the Hawks.
Michaela is the graceful playmaker with unlimited range. Her stroke from long distance became a staple from the moment she burst on the scene as a freshman at St. John Vianney, where she averaged 11.8 points a game and knocked down 50 3-pointers in helping the Lady Lancers to a 31-2 mark and the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title.
But, she never felt quite comfortable at the Holmdel school and transferred to Manasquan for her sophomore season, helping to elevate the program to a point where it’s considered one of the top teams in the Tri-State area. Her passing is both sharp and breathtakingly imaginative while that signature jumper is just a small piece of a wide-ranging offensive arsenal that’s helped her accumulate 1,704 career points.
When Marina joined the fray, she needed to develop a physical edge in order to compete with her older brother and sister. She also recognized the importance of doing all the intangibles in order to hold her own. Considered the best defender of the lot, she can not only wear down whoever she guards but wear out an opponent with the force and persistence with which she attacks the basket, which has enabled her to click for 15.4 points per game.
Ask the three oldest who has the potential to be the best player of them all and they believe it boils down to Dara or Ryan.
“Michaela is the most talented and Marina is the toughest,” Roy Jr. said. “Dara is the hardest worker. She always wants to go run or work out. Ryan is a mystery. He’s better than most of the kids I see him play against. He could be the best out of all of us.”
A few feet from the Mabreys’ kitchen is a dining room table or, at least they think it is.
The infrequency that they use it speaks to a family that’s constantly on the move, shuttling from venue to venue in an effort to see as much of everyone’s games as humanly possible. And, there’s no griping about such a lifestyle.
“If we didn’t have basketball I couldn’t imagine our family without it,” Michaela said. “Would we be a normal family that has dinner every single night together? The only time we sit down at the table and have dinner is on holidays. We are all on different schedules. Dinner to other families is like basketball to us. We all try to get to each other’s games. It draws us together.”
“A lot of people didn’t understand the mentality of going to sit at the park as a family for two hours and play basketball,” said Patti, a hard-nosed center back in the day when she played her high-school ball at St. Joseph’s By the Sea in Staten Island. “They’d want to know why did we do that to our children and why don’t we let them go hang out. But, the kids wanted to go work out.”
The love of the game hasn’t had a bearing on academics. Michaela maintains a 3.70 GPA and scored a 1,750 on her SAT the first time she took it while Marina is an A student.
“Basketball is third in line,” Roy Jr. said of the priority list. “Family first, school second and then it’s basketball. When people hear our name, they probably think of basketball first. But, we’d like for them to think we’re smart and hard workers who did that work on their own to earn their spots.”
The standards to be measured by in the Mabrey basketball chain are rather lofty, almost as tall as the ever-growing set marks on a wall, where those who stop by can anticipate being measured literally for their height. The tradition started when Roy Jr. was around six years old and has a bit of celebrity status attached to it; topping the chart is 6-11 Andre Drummond, a teammate of Roy’s at St. Thomas More and currently a highly-touted freshman at UConn.
Expectations can weigh quite heavy, as Marina can attest. She became a hot topic of discussion before she even set foot in Manasquan High School. The sister of one of New Jersey’s premier and most established stars carried with it some rather unfair projections that she had to deal with.
“I knew there were going to be a lot of that for me,” Marina said. “I was really nervous about living up to what everyone was thinking. Having Michaela here has made it so much easier for me. She leads the team. If I do something wrong, I know she will tell me and correct me.”
No Regrets As New Paths Are Blazed
When each of the kids expresses how much they enjoy devoting extensive time to basketball, there is an unmistakable genuineness to it. They all have their own personalities and interests, yet, are fully committed to a sport that has made such a lasting impact upon them.
From the tiny rim and backboard that hangs from a closet door to the relatively-empty china cabinet off the kitchen, stripped of any precious heirlooms that could become the next casualty from a ill-advised no-look pass, the importance of basketball to the Mabreys is immeasurable and they are forever grateful for the part its played in their lives.
“Honestly, everything in my house revolves around basketball,” Michaela said. "I don’t mind it though. It’s what all of us do. It’s what we put all of our time into. That’s our life and that’s our family.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner