LeVelle Moton went to San Antonio two years ago. There are pictures to prove it.
Moton, the head basketball coach at North Carolina Central, led those Eagles to the 2014 NCAA tournament after dominating the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. N.C. Central was a No. 14 seed that year, falling to Iowa State in the opening round.
Moton was there because he had to coach the team. But ask him to recall anything from that weekend – where the team stayed, plays they ran, anything about the game – and he couldn’t tell you. The Eagles won the MEAC tournament championship on a Saturday night, watched Selection Sunday the next day and on Tuesday they were scheduled to fly to San Antonio.
That Monday Moton got the news his son, LeVelle Jr., or VJ, who was then a year old, was in the hospital with second degree burns after accidentally spilling coffee on himself.
At the height of his career – a former middle school basketball coach leading his alma mater to its first NCAA tournament – Moton told the chancellor, Dr. Debra Saunders-White, that he wasn’t going with the team to San Antonio. He had her full support.
“She said if you don’t want to go we support you because family is always first around here,” Moton said Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, where his Eagles (22-8) will take on UC-Davis (Wednesday, 6:40, truTV) in the NCAA First Four.
Moton’s wife encouraged him to go, and until this day, he said he still feels guilty about going to coach a basketball game while his son was in the hospital back in North Carolina. The Eagles didn’t stay in San Antonio long, bounced in the first round by the Cyclones, 93-75. Not that it matters. To Moton it’s almost as if it never happened.
“This is really my first time (at the NCAA tournament) because I don’t even remember anything from that weekend,” Moton said.
That wasn’t the case this time around.
Before the Eagles took the floor for their open practice, Moton, 42, was standing on the sideline, snapping pictures and recording videos from his phone. Right on his side, almost joined at the hip, was VJ, 4. By the time the team took the floor for warmups, VJ and his sister, Brooke, 8, were with the team, stretching as if they had a game in 24 hours. Brooke went through all the pre-practice drills next to Del’Vin Dickerson, the bigman from Houston, Texas. VJ never left his father’s side, the coach steadily recording on his phone while VJ stretched his legs out as far as he could, mimicking the players.
VJ was soon on the sidelines, next to the bench, on his knees playing with a basketball. During a stoppage in playtime, Moton brought VJ over to meet former NBA players Steve Smith and Len Elmore, who will be calling the game for truTV.
Tuesday, before and during the open practice, was all about Moton enjoying the scene with VJ, Brooke and his wife, Bridget, who sat not nearby.Clearly, VJ was having a blast.
“I’m laying in the hotel last night and he is just running around a thousand miles an hour,” Moton said with a laugh. “I can’t get no sleep, and I’m like, ‘man, why did I bring you here.’ But I have him here and it’s really a blessing.”
Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV