In theory it sounds simple enough – coaches talk, players listen.
A coach gets his players in practice or a game, tells them what to expect and what he wants. The players, hanging on his every word, go out and execute. The teacher and pupil relationship has flourished for years thanks to this formula. A coach won’t steer you wrong, his lessons based on his experiences. Not what he thinks is going to happen, but what he knows will happen.
North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton would tell you it doesn’t quite work like it used to. Moton, in great detail, told his team how things would go once Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play rolled around. He explained how opponents treated games versus N.C. Central like it was the Super Bowl and no matter the record, they were going to get their best shot every night, just because of the N.C. Central name.
After the Eagles dropped their conference opener to Delaware State, 69-68 in Durham on Tuesday night, Moton sat in a room with two of his seniors within earshot, talking about how his team pouts and cries too much.
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“That’s just what it is,” he added.
Not one to mince words, Moton, who on several occasions mentioned how this team lacked maturity, said these players get to a point where “coaches can’t tell them nothing, their teammates can’t tell them nothing.”
Earlier in the season he used the hot stove example; if somebody tells you the stove is hot, you should believe him and not touch it to see.
His latest example came after the loss Tuesday night.
“When we leave here and I tell you guys, look there’s a thunderstorm out there, I expect you to take cover and not just walk out there blind, wait for it to rain on you and come back and get an umbrella.”
That thunderstorm came in the form of the Hornets, who stung the Eagles by jumping out to an early 11-0 lead, after which they never recovered. After Dejuan Graf scored a game-high 25 points the following night in a 69-52 win over Maryland Eastern Shore, he made the key to winning sound so simple.
“We just did what he asked us to do and listened,” Graf said. “We just did what coach drew up for us.”
So Graf was admitting once the team started listening to Moton, things worked in their favor? When this was brought to his attention, Graf acknowledged that it sounds easy enough.
“When we’re not complaining and just do what he ask us to do, that makes us a better team,” Graf said. “When we (played Delaware State) we didn’t come out focused. That loss made us focus.”
Can the Eagles (10-6) continue to listen as they head to Norfolk on Saturday for their first conference road game against Norfolk State (1-1, 4-12)? Only time will tell. But it’s clear they get the message.
After the Delaware State game, senior Pat Cole was one of the players in the room when Moton spoke about the players not listening. Twenty-four hours later, sitting in the same room, Cole admitted the team has to take advantage of those “golden nuggets” from Moton.
“He told us Delaware State was going to come out and smack us in the mouth if we didn’t come out with energy,” Cole said. “I feel like listening, to that extent, is very important, because obviously that’s what they did. When he’s talking about listening, he’s talking about when he’s giving us those golden nuggets. Before Delaware State we didn’t listen, it was an eye opener. Like he said, it’s 13 dogs chasing one bone.”
Moton used that phrase way before the season started. One minus one equals zero is another one of his favorites, meaning you can’t have a good play, followed by a mistake or turnover. Forward Kyle Benton repeated that one Tuesday night. Whether they realize it or not, the Eagles are starting to sound like their coach. They must be listening and don’t realize it.
“It really does sink in,” Cole said.