Coach’s son cries at departure of favorite player
North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton watched seven seniors play their final game in McDougald-McLendon Arena last week, a 72-62 win over South Carolina State.
His 6-year-old son, LeVelle Jr., or VJ, had a harder time letting go than his dad, and the video of his reaction went viral. NCCU student videographer Calvin Barnes captured VJ saying goodbye to the seniors. VJ became overwhelmed with emotion as he walked up to Larry McKnight Jr., his favorite NCCU player. The younger Moton wiped away tears after the best buddies exchanged a hug.
VJ walked back to his dad before and returned to McKnight’s locker for one more embrace. VJ then hugged senior Raasean Davis before exiting the locker room. Moton posted the video on Twitter on Thursday and the one-minute clip picked up over one million views by Friday.
Moton had to explain “Senior Night” to VJ. The younger Moton saw McKnight receive a framed jersey and thought McKnight’s career was over.
“He thinks he’s never going to see them again,” Moton said after the game. “He thought him and Larry was going to play in the back court together in 12 years. Larry’s been good to him, man.”
McKnight, a Miami native, arrived in Durham last season and appeared in all 34 games for the Eagles. He has started all 29 games this season, but may have never gotten his chance if not for VJ.
As Moton tells it, VJ was just learning his numbers last year when after a game one night told his dad: “Zero is the hero,” a reference to McKnight’s jersey number. Moton played McKnight the next night and he responded with a big scoring game.
“I was like, (VJ) was onto something,” Moton said.
This year McKnight is third on the team in scoring (9.7 ppg) and he had 13 points in the win over South Carolina State on Monday.
Last season, the 6-4, 235-pound guard instantly became VJ’s favorite. Moton said VJ’s pecking order of favorite basketball players is: McKnight, John Wall, Jayson Tatum, Theo Pinson and LeBron James.
That’s high praise for a player who has only been around the program for two years. Even Moton can’t quite figure it out.
“I wish I knew,” Moton said. “I just think it’s God, I just think it’s his connection.”
When VJ travels with the team, he has to sit beside McKnight on the bus. Last March, NCCU traveled to Dayton, Ohio for the NCAA “First Four” and VJ insisted on sitting beside McKnight on the plane. Even when they are at home, Moton can hear VJ in his room, playing basketball and providing commentary. Each time it’s a two-man game, and VJ is always passing the ball to McKnight.
When Moton has the team over his house, VJ always wants to show his room and toys to McKnight. He wants McKnight to shoot hoops and play, or look at the latest cartoon on his iPad.
“For Black History Month he wanted to do his project on Larry,” Moton said, “but he settled for Michael Jackson.”
Moton talked about how special McKnight is, always having a minute to listen to VJ.
“I appreciate him for taking the time to treat my son like he is his little brother,” Moton said. “I have nothing but love and respect for that kid. He’s a super kid, a super character. All of those things. Whenever someone does right by your child, you can’t help but have love and respect for them.”
The Eagles (15-14, 10-5 MEAC) have one more game, at rival North Carolina A&T (16-12, 11-3) on March 7, before heading to the MEAC tournament in Norfolk, Va.