Durham News: Sports

Bonitta Best: Moton reaches a milestone

Basketball head coach LeVelle Moton says it’s NCCU’s team that deserves credit for his coaching record.
Basketball head coach LeVelle Moton says it’s NCCU’s team that deserves credit for his coaching record. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Eight years ago, a young man with no collegiate coaching experience was given a chance to return to his alma mater.

He had been successful coaching basketball on the high school level, leading Raleigh’s Sanderson High School to a 59-25 record and two Cap-7 Conference championships in three years. But his dream – as is with most former athletes-turned-coaches – was to work in the gymnasium that made him a household name in HBCU circles.

He got that opportunity, but first he had to take a few baby steps. He learned the inner workings of the college environment for two years as an assistant. Then came the chance of a lifetime.

He convinced a skeptic athletic director that if she hired him, he would win a conference championship in five years.

Last season was LeVelle Moton’s fifth as head coach. Sitting in a case on North Carolina Central’s campus is a MEAC championship trophy.

Two weeks ago Moton added another prestigious accolade to his career arsenal. This one wasn’t guaranteed, but he’ll take it nevertheless.

The man with no previous college coaching experience earned his 100th win on Jan. 10 – 76-45 over South Carolina State.

All this after winning just seven games in his first season as head coach during the Eagles’ transition to Division I.

“It means that I had some great people around me, some great players, great coaches, and a great administration that supported me,” Moton said. “It means it’s a collective 100 wins for NCCU since I’ve been here.”

After another brutal nonconference schedule, with quality wins over Eastern Illinois and Northern Arizona, and some early-season injuries, which seem to have become as much a part of the Eagles’ habits as winning, NCCU is playing like defending champs, (two words Moton said he never wants to hear.)

The Eagles, 6-0 in McDougald-McLendon Gym this season, have the nation’s third-longest home winning streak (29) behind Gonzaga (34) and Arizona (30). They moved up a notch after Duke had its 41-win home streak broken by Miami.

They lead the MEAC in scoring, scoring defense, scoring margin, field-goal shooting, field-goal defense, blocks and assists.

N.C. Central’s last conference loss was at Florida A&M on Jan. 11, 2014. Last Saturday’s 60-56 victory over Norfolk State, in a battle of the conference unbeatens, was the Eagles’ seventh straight win.

“We’re a reflection of our coach. With his individual accolades, and for us to be a part of that, is history. Making any history is good, and that’s what you come to school for,” said senior forward Jordan Parks who is averaging 15 points and seven rebounds a game.

Many consider Moton an even better recruiter than coach. With last year’s departures of all-conference point guard Emmanuel Chapman and 2013-14 MEAC Player of the Year Jeremy Ingram, NCCU had four gigantic shoes to fill.

But senior guard Nimrod Hilliard, who leads the MEAC in assists and free throw shooting, is starting to understand his place and his role as the general on the team. Leadership is something Chapman perfected during his four seasons.

“He’s been really good the last several weeks, exceptionally well, a lot more confident,” Moton said. “He’s doing a good job understanding the coaching and putting everyone in their place as well. He has to be the extension of me on the floor. He has that look, and they are hearing him out.”

The entire MEAC can hear that the Eagles have raised the bar for everybody else, which might not have happened if a certain athletic director hadn’t been convinced to take a chance.

“I am extremely proud of Coach Moton on another milestone in his career and in our athletics history,” Athletics Director Ingrid Wicker-McCree said. “I don’t have any doubt in his ability to guide our program through many more milestones.”

The Eagles return home on Saturday to put their home streak on the line against Coppin State. Then ESPN comes to town Monday for a 7 p.m. matchup against Delaware State, to be televised on ESPNU.