Minium: Ahmad Caver Traveled a Difficult Road to ODU, and His Journey, and Pain, are Chronicled in His Many Tattoos

March 05, 2019
By ODU Athletics
ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

Ahmad Caver was 11 or 12, he’s not sure of his exact age, when his life was first touched by the murder of someone close to him.

His best friend’s mother, who he knew simply as Ms. Amanda, lived two doors down and was killed in a drive-by shooting.

“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Caver grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale, a small city near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that had big crime and poverty problems when Caver was growing up.

He lost several friends as a teenager. And although Riverdale has begun to gentrify, he has lost four friends since he began playing basketball for Old Dominion four years ago, including one earlier this season while the Monarchs were playing in the Virgin Islands.

He pays homage to those four most recent friends on his Twitter profile. As for the others, many are honored on his arms.

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ODU vs Southern Mississippi, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

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Caver’s arms are covered with tattoos. Dozens of them. The one for Ms. Amanda is a guardian angel. “I’ve got so many tattoos, I forgot what they all say,” Caver says.

“I’ve had a lot of deaths to deal with. Most everyone was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone I knew was murdered with a gun or a knife.

“It got to a point when I was in high school where I just realized I had to deal with it knowing that it’s a part of life and that God has a plan for everyone.

“It was hard. You get a couple of cries out and think about the memories you had with them and you just have to move on.”

He lost a close friend, who went by the nickname “Loko,” while in the Virgin Islands.

“He didn’t tell anyone his real name,” Caver said. “I met him my freshman year in high school. He was a good guy, kind of a goofball. He stayed in touch with me on social media.”

Loko, he said, had planned to come to Norfolk to see Caver play this season.

Loko would have been proud. Caver plays his final game at the Ted Constant Center Wednesday night against Southern Mississippi with his name firmly ensconced in the ODU record book.

Ahmad Caver celebrates ODU's victory over VCU. His arms are covered with tattoos, and they help chronicle his painful road to ODU. 

Although teammate, fellow senior, roommate and close friend B.J. Stith is at times the more ballyhooed of the two, Caver is one of the best point guards ever to play in ODU’s 88 years of basketball.

His 573 assists rank seventh in school history and his 1,450 points are 17th. And that’s a pretty good scoring stat for a guy assigned to run ODU’s offense, and set up his teammates.

He is also 9th in both steals with 181 and in games played with 130. With at least four games left to go in ODU’s season, Caver will move up the ladder even more.

He will graduate in May with a degree in communications, and hopes to extend his basketball career play pro basketball, perhaps in Europe.

Not bad for a kid absolutely no college coach except ODU's Jeff Jones thought was a Division I player when he was a high school senior.

As a child, Caver threw himself into basketball with all his heart and soul. Prodded by his parents, father Wilton Caver and mother Keeyanah Caver, he acknowledges he did so in part to escape the reality of the pain brought on by losing so many friends.

As a 14-year-old freshman at Drew High, he was 5-foot-2 or so and on no one’s recruiting radar. So he made the bold decision to transfer to North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, more than 40 miles away. He did so to get to be closer to the AAU team run by former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse.

Before he was old enough to drive, he stayed overnight in Suwanee, Ga. with teammates. Once he got his license, he drove back and forth.

If he left by 5:30 a.m., he’d be in time for class. “I didn’t always get up on time and sometimes I was late,” he said. “But I did what I had to do to play basketball.”

Coach Jeff Jones says Ahmad Caver has "one of the highest basketball IQs" of anyone he's ever coached.

Caver shot up to about eight inches as a sophomore and junior and quickly became a starter and a standout. He went to every offseason camp he could make it to.

His dad, a former high school star who was denied a chance to go to college because he had to go to work to help support his family, often went with him.

But late in his senior year, he had no offers.

“That was a difficult time,” he said. “I wondered, am I going to have to go to a Division III school or a junior college?

“Am I going to get the chance to live out my dream?”

He had decided to enroll at St. John John’s Northwest Military Academy in Delafield, Wisc., for a year of postgraduate school by the time his first offer came in May. And it came from ODU Jones, who saw him play at an AAU tournament in Dallas.

His nine months in Wisconsin were far more taxing than his time commuting from one end of Atlanta to the other.

Delafield is a small town in rural Wisconsin, with few African-Americans and some of the coldest weather in America.

 “We had a gas station and that was pretty much it,” he said. And they weren’t kidding about military discipline.

His hair was cut short, he wore a uniform and marched to chapel each morning at 6 a.m. He played basketball for a program that has seen better times.

The gym was used for all sorts of activities, and basketball practice didn’t always take priority. And when the team practiced, there were just eight players. Two players who were supposed to join the team didn’t show and another was booted off the team.

Although many big-time coaches came to see Northwest Military Academy play, no Power 5 schools offered him.

“It surprised me that other teams weren’t recruiting him,” Jones said. “I liked him the first time I ever saw him. He was unselfish. He made the right decisions. He was smart.

“We went through that summer worried that high level schools might try and jump on him. For whatever reason, they didn’t.”

By the time signing day came around, a couple of Mid-American Conference schools were recruiting him. But Carver was done with Midwestern winters, and Norfolk was a day’s drive from Atlanta.

It was great fortune for ODU. Caver has been so good that some, including basketball expert Jeff Goodman, expect that he will be named Conference USA Player of the Year.

Ahmad Caver grew up dreaming of playing at Syracuse. In December, he led ODU to an upset of the No. 25 Orange at the Carrier Dome. 

“He just does everything for the Monarchs,” Goodman said. “He’s their leader. He defends. He’s tough. He’s experienced. I think he’s the best player on the best team, and that’s no disrespect to B.J. Stith, who’s had a heck of a season, too.”

Regardless, both he and Stith seem to be sure bets to make the first-team all-conference team.

“Ahmad has been critical to our success,” Jones said. “B.J. is our best offensive rebounder and he scores. But we ask Ahmad to do so many things. He makes our other players so much better.

“His basketball IQ is as high as anybody’s I’ve coached at Old Dominion, and one of the highest of anyone I’ve ever coached.”

Caver is an iron man who is tenth in the nation in minutes played at 37.3 per game. And the fact that he’s a point guard on the nation’s eighth-best defensive team that sometimes struggles to score hurts his shooting percentage.

“At the end of the clock shot, when everything else breaks down, he’s going to create things where he’s going to have to take a tough shot.”

And he’s ODU’s MVP in an intangible category – leadership.

Dave Twardizik, the best point guard in ODU history (he averaged 10.3 assists when the Monarchs were a Division II powerhouse) and the color commentator for the Monarch radio broadcasts, said “there’s no question that everyone looks at Ahmad as being the leader of this team.

“And the beauty of Ahmad is I don’t think he went outside of his personality to establish this.

“He wasn’t loud. He’s been able to deliver for four years and players respect that. I’ve never seen him get rattled or nervous. There’s a nice sense of calm to him.”

Jones said that’s not always the case behind closed doors.

“His passion to win this year is burning hot,” Jones said. “He’s been a little more stern in saying we all have to have a sense of urgency. He’s the one who tell his teammates, ‘We’re in a good place now. Don’t screw this up,’ ” Jones added, using a more blunt word in place of screw.

ODU (23-6) is indeed in a great place. The Monarchs have already clinched the Conference USA regular-season title, and an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament, regardless of what happens in the last two regular season games and at the C-USA tournament next week in Frisco, Texas.

“This is a very special team,” Twardzik said. “They’ve been so poised, so good in a lot of close games. And a lot of that poise comes from Ahmad.”

That may be in part because for the first time as ODU’s coach, Jones allowed three players to live off campus. His steadfast rule has been for players to stay in the dorms, where he thinks they are protected from outside influences.

He made an exception for his three seniors – Caver, Stith and Elbert Robinson III, the transfer from LSU whose 7-foot-1 presence inside may have been the difference between a good season and a championship season.

“It’s been great,” Jones said. “They’ve taken the lead in organizing special nights for the team.

“They have the guys over there a lot, for the College Football Playoff, the Super Bowl, that kind of thing.

“That time away from the court together has been beneficial. I think it’s helped the chemistry on the team.”

Seniors Ahmad Caver, Elbert Robinson III and B.J. Stith, will be recognized Wednesday night at ODU's last home game. 

All three will be honored about 15 minutes before game time on senior night. Caver both looks forward to and dreads the final game.

ODU has been to only one tournament in Caver’s four years – the Las Vegas 8, which the Monarchs won his sophomore year.

“But that doesn’t count,” he said. “The NCAA tournament, that’s why people play Division I basketball, to feel that experience you've seen on TV every year.

“If that doesn’t happen, the NIT is a great tournament. There are big names in that tournament and you can become a Cinderella story.

“I’m looking forward to the end of the regular season because I think it will be followed by great things.”

But he knows he’ll cry Wednesday night because he knows his mother will cry.

His entire family went to ODU’s game at Syracuse in late December, when the Monarchs upset the then 25th-ranked Orange.

As a kid, Caver dreamed of playing at the Carrier Dome. His favorite player is former Syracuse standout Carmelo Anthony.

“She cried when we won at Syracuse,” he said. “My Mom knew what a big Syracuse fan I was and what beating them meant to me.

“Hopefully, I’ll hold it together. But if my Mom cries, I’m going to tear up.”

His parents are no longer a couple, but when it comes to Ahmad, they’ve stood together. He said they encouraged him to do the right thing. His Mom taught him the virtues of Christianity and told him that hanging out on street corners in Riverdale is a dangerous thing to do.

Fortunately, he listened to his parents most of the time.

"His dad is a basketball guy," Jones said. "But he's Momma's boy. 

"His dad is involved in AAU basketball and he's been a father and a coach to Ahmad in a good way. He's never complained about anything. He always tells the coaches that we've done a good job. He's been very supportive of Ahmad and of the team."

His Mom, who works for Georgia Power, gets to as many games as she can but has missed more than his father, who owns his own business.

Nonetheless, Caver says "They've both been here for me. They did a great job raising me."

Caver didn’t embrace his Mom’s Christianity right away. His first name is a Muslim name, he said. “My Dad’s Mom is Muslim,” he said. “My Mom really liked it and so do I. There aren’t too many people named Ahmad.”

Late in his high school career, weighed down by the loss of friends, he began to read the bible. He didn’t want to accept his Mom’s beliefs at face value. He said he needed to study and decide for himself what's true and not true.

Eventually, he accepted Christianity. 

A good look at his arms will tell you that.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” says one tattoo.

Another has a cross with a crown on the top and reads: “I live for him, he died for me.”

One on his chest says “Family is forever, with Heaven’s gates.”

He said he began getting tattoos because he loves drawing, but has no talent for it. “This is how I show my love for art.”

As he continued to lose friends, his tattoos also became a way to pay homage to them.

One tattoo says “VIP.”

“Me and some of my friends all got that tattoo,” he said. “We’ve never told people what it stands for.

“My tattoos express some of the story I went through, some of the things I saw as a child.”

He doesn’t have any ODU tattoos yet, but that surely will change. He said he's going to miss his teammates, especially Stith.

“From our first week here together, we just clicked,” he said. “We like a majority of the same things. We both grew up with great parents. We’ll be friends the rest of our lives.

“I came here not knowing what it was going to be like, and I discovered that it was great. I’ve grown up a lot here. I’ve learned so much, met so many people who’ve become important people in my life.

“I’m going to miss this place a lot.”

Email Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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