LeVelle Moton knew exactly what he was getting into when he took over as the new head basketball coach at N.C. Central in March.
For the previous two seasons, he had been an assistant to Henry Dickerson. Moton, a product of Raleigh's Enloe High, was one of Central's biggest stars as a player from 1992-96, when Greg Jackson was head coach, and his jersey is honored on the wall at McLendon-McDougald Gym. However, Moton's two seasons as assistant coach coincided with some serious growing pains for the program, as Central endured a painful period as transitional members of NCAA Division I.
The Eagles had a proud history, winning the first CIAA championship back in 1946 when Southern colleges were racially segregated and the talent in that conference was as good as any in the country. Pioneer coach John McLendon and the Eagles' greatest player, Boston Celtics legend Sam Jones, are enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. And the Eagles won an NCAA Division II title in 1989.
None of that has meant much between the lines for the Eagles at the Division I level. NCCU went 4-26 two seasons ago and 4-27 last season. But that has been against a schedule in which the Eagles have visited many of the nation's top powers, with games at every school in the ACC's Big Four, as well as top teams from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. Sometimes the Eagles, who had one win in their first six games this season, have suffered horrible blowouts, and sometimes they've kept the big-time opponents interested. But Moton said he's not interested in any more moral victories. He wants marks in the left-hand column.
"The guys have worked so hard," said Moton, whose coaching staff includes Ray Martin, who was on the N.C. State staff for the 1983 NCAA championship, and Robert Brickey, who had Final Four playing experience at Duke. "They're trying to buy into the system, and everyone is pretty much new. Sometimes when you try so hard and you're so eager to please, things can go sour. We just have to have complete effort and concentration every night."
Central's visit to UNC to start this season, an 89-42 loss, marked the second time in three seasons the Eagles had played a November game against the defending national champions.
The Eagles had two players from last season's team transfer away: Leading scorer and guard Jamar Briscoe is now at UNC Charlotte, while center Stevy Worah-Ozimo is at Slippery Rock. But junior wing Vincent Davis is the leading returning scorer from last season's team, while 5-foot-8 point guard Michael Glasker was the assist leader.
The roster has been bolstered by a couple of key junior-college transfers in forwards T.J. Granger and C.J. Wilkerson, who was named as the top newcomer among Division I independents by The Sporting News. Waiting in the wings, Moton hopes, is 6-8 junior power forward Lamar Pittman, who had that designation from The Sporting News last year but suffered a torn ACL before that season and at press time had yet to be medically cleared to play.
Moton said he was impressed from the beginning with the moral support he has gotten from the Triangle's other Division I head coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, UNC's Roy Williams and N.C. State's Sidney Lowe.
"Those guys eight miles away and 10 miles away and Sidney down there are there to offer their support and give their advice," Moton said. "I want to employ a 94-by-50 pressure-pressure-pressure style on both ends of the floor. But at this time, we don't have the personnel to do that. I want to employ winning basketball and make the adjustments we have to make every night to give ourselves a chance to win."