DURHAM — N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton twice inserted himself into a practice drill last week, demonstrating to his basketball team the correct way to set a screen.
The Eagles were coming off a 75-62 loss to Eastern Kentucky and preparing for today's game against N.C. State at Reynolds Coliseum (3 p.m., FSCR).
During an intense practice, Moton yelled instructions to cutters slowly looping around a perimeter screen. Later, he slammed a pad into post players charging into the lane for layups.
"We don't have the luxury of me sitting over here throwing these balls out there and saying, 'Go make some plays,'" the former Enloe standout said.
"We have to break it down, and we have to do it every single day."
Such is life for Moton and the Eagles (5-4) as a Division I basketball team. In his third season, N.C. Central has made the official transition from Division II and are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, newly eligible this season to compete in its conference tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament.
Moton's team is finally playing a regular conference schedule and have stopped criss-crossing the country for guaranteed games. He has a full roster of scholarship athletes, several of them seniors who have matured with the program.
Last season, the Eagles finished 15-15 overall and 10-5 against MEAC opponents, improving significantly over the previous season's mark of 7-22. The team's improved performance earned Moton the NCAA Division I Independent Coach of the Year award as the program collected its most victories since moving to Division I.
"We're battle-tested," Moton said. "We've seen it all and pretty much have done it all. We're not afraid of any opponent."
That includes N.C. State, which owns a 3-0 record over the Eagles. The Wolfpack (5-3) is also 26-0 against MEAC squads.
So Moton scheduled State as one of four in-state, nonconference games. The program accepted the guarantee fee of $70,000 and the challenge of facing an ACC team -- despite an 0-12 record against the league over the past five years.
It's an opportunity for local players such as Landon Clement (Sanderson High) and Nick Chasten (Leesville Road), among five of the Triangle products on the team, to play before a home crowd.
A victory over the Wolfpack would show just how far the Eagles have come.
"It would do something really big for our program," said N.C. Central transfer Dominique Sutton, who last week was named the MEAC's player of the week. "It would mean something big for us. It would show the hard work and the practice we put in."
Sutton, a Durham native, leads the team with 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Moton, who starred at N.C. Central and finished his playing career as its third all-time leading scorer, said the team is starting to take after him.
"I give them credit," he said. "They are trying to buy in. They are going to have to go through the process and hit some of the highs and the lows."
An early high this season was defeating rival N.C. A&T 65-46 on Dec. 3. A low was losing the next game to Eastern Kentucky.
N.C. Central athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree said Moton has done, "a great job at building the program."
"I expect them to become MEAC champions," she said. "Of course, you want it soon. ... It takes time to cultivate, to do things right. He's establishing himself. Making sure people know that NCCU is a great option."