The Instagram photo says it all.
N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton is holding his 1-year-old son, LeVelle Jr., who has bandages wrapped around his face and head, as they look out from a hospital window with their backs to the camera.
Moton had just returned home after the Eagles 93-75 loss to Iowa State in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
But wins or losses were the farthest thing from Moton’s mind. The night before the team was to leave for San Antonio, Texas, LeVelle Jr. accidentally spilled hot coffee on his face and was rushed to the hospital. He was still there as his Eagles flew on to Texas.
Moton was on the verge of cancelling his trip to join the team until doctors assured him that LeVelle Jr. was going to be all right.
“You work your entire life to get to this moment, and one thing I learned is that success is nothing without someone that you love to share it with,” he said. “I walk into an incredible hotel that looks like an apartment and I’m in there by myself, and it just doesn’t feel the same without my son and my daughter and my wife, who sacrificed so much to allow me to become a better person and a better basketball coach. And they’re not here. That’s my ritual before the game.”
That ritual includes daughter Brooke making a heart symbol with her fingers through which she blows a kiss, and Moton returning the gesture before every game.
The Eagles had a 20-game winning streak entering into Friday’s contest. Their 28-5 record before the loss tied for the best in school history.
Yes, coaches are very superstitious, but Brooke’s absence had nothing to do with NCCU’s loss. The Eagles’ bread-and-butter throughout the season failed them – defense. It’s hard to beat a team the caliber of Iowa State that shoots almost 64 percent from the field.
Senior forward Jeremy Ingram finished his career with 1,525 points, tying him for sixth all-time in Eagles history.
But no one was interested in any moral victories.
There had been full expectations of moving on to the next round.
“If you go into the locker room, it’s like a morgue,” Moton said at the postgame press conference. “There are no moral victories. These kids expected to win a basketball game. But overall, I’m proud of our guys. It’s amazing what a group can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.”
Senior guard Emanuel Chapman wasn’t in the mood to reminisce when asked about NCCU’s accomplishments, but he did reiterate his coach’s sentiments.
“The thing I’m most proud of is everything we did, we did together,” said the Eagles all-time assists leader. “Defensively, offensively, on and off the floor, we were a family – and we’re still a family. Regardless of what happens next, we will always stay together.”