NC Central to face challenge of starting over

If you peruse the roster of N.C. Central’s 2014-15 basketball team, the new faces outnumber the familiar ones.

Five players are returning, while eight are new. No Jeremy Ingram. No Emmanuel Chapman, arguably the two best players on last year’s first NCAA tournament team.

Getting back to the NCAA tournament will be a challenge.

But for most successful mid-major programs, having to start over every other year is normal. Players tend to struggle their first two years in college but reach the top of their games in their junior and senior years.

To stay competitive, schools like N.C. Central must scoop up older players transferring out of major conference schools and successful JUCO players.

Avoiding that two-year lull, N.C. Central coach Moton says, is difficult, but necessary.

“The reality is these kids grow up dreaming about going to Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and so on and so forth,” Moton said. “And the next dreams are going to the UNC Charlottes and the Wake Forests.”

He said by the time schools like N.C. Central find high school players, it takes them two years to really get going, so they are forced to start over. The goal of N.C. Central’s basketball program is to maintain that level of consistency.

“The hardest thing to do is sustain that,” said Moton, whose team is picked to finish first in the MEAC. “That’s the hardest thing to do, not only in basketball but in anything. Once you go out on a date and you take this girl out to a fancy restaurant that night, you’ve got to maintain that. You can’t go to Bojangles’ the next week. She’s expecting chicken parmesan and whatever she likes.”

Moton is no stranger to the transfer game. In 2011 and 2012, there was Dominique Sutton, from Kansas State, and Ray Willis, from Oklahoma. Both made an immediate impact averaging 16.4 and 14.7 points per game, respectively, in their first year.

In 2012-13, Stanton Kidd, of South Plains College, averaged 14.5 points per game in his first year.

Whether the newest additions to the team this year are able to do the same remains to be seen. Who will be their impact players? Who will replace Ingram and Chapman, both of whom signed contracts oversees?

“To be honest, I know just as much as you know,” Moton said.

He said he has been unable to identify those players because most have been injured in practice. He also said he cannot judge a player until the team plays in front of 10,000 fans.

Nimrod Hilliard may be one of those players. Hilliard comes from Lamar University. Lamar cannot compete in postseason play this year, and its seniors were allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year.

Last year, Hilliard led Lamar in points and assists. He averaged 14.1 points and 4.9 assists per game.

“I really want to keep the winning going,” Hilliard said. “That’s exactly why I came here. I’m a point guard, obviously. I can pass. I can score. But it’s really just about winning. Any way we can do that, I’m willing to do.”

The school made its first appearance as a Division I program in the NCAA tournament in March, three years after it made its transition from Division II. N.C. Central won the MEAC and finished 28-6, tying a school record for most wins in a season and upsetting big schools like N.C. State along the way.

The Eagles were a No. 14 seed but lost to Iowa State in the second round.

But this is a new season, Moton said.

“Our players aren’t even allowed to mention the phrase ‘last year,’ ” he said. “It’s a process, and there are no skipping steps with the process. We’re going to embrace that. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun to go through it, but we’re going to go through it and see what’s on the other side.”