Eagles have grown into contenders
N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton was humming a blues number before the season started, moaning about how his big man left him with a hole both in his heart and in the gameplan for what the Eagles would be up against in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Yet no team in the league has figured out how to beat NCCU (15-7, 8-0 MEAC).
Florida A&M (6-16, 3-5 MEAC) will try to knock the Eagles from their perch today in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium (4 p.m., nccueaglepride.com).
NCCU is in second place in the MEAC behind Norfolk State, the only other team that hasn’t lost a game in the conference, though the Spartans having played one more league game than the Eagles.
A win against FAMU would make it 10 in a row for NCCU.
But Moton won’t change his genre.
“Still the blues,” Moton said. “The reality was our best player left us.”
Former NCCU forward Dominique Sutton, who is from Durham and now is with the NBA Development League’s Tulsa 66ers, brought a level of toughness to the Eagles’ program when he transferred from Kansas State. He was NCCU’s main scorer and best rebounder a year ago at 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
“I didn’t know how guys were going to respond,” Moton said of the current team. “The one thing most coaches fear is the unknown, because you have seven newcomers who haven’t proven themselves on this level. And in this business, it’s a business of performance.
“It was nerve wracking to go through, to say the least.”
Moton insisted that he wasn’t just blowing smoke months ago when he said he didn’t know what kind of team he would put on the floor this season.
“It’s one thing to recruit these kids,” Moton said. “But it’s another thing when they get here and those live bullets start flying. This is a different level. This is the level of all levels, Division I basketball, and only the strong survive.”
NCCU guard Jeremy Ingram leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game, but newcomer Stanton Kidd is getting 14.9 points, second-best on the team.
Kidd’s scoring average against MEAC teams actually is a little better than Ingram’s, and Kidd leads the Eagles with 7.2 rebounds per game.
Kidd has admitted that the MEAC is a tougher brand of basketball than what he was accustomed to last year at South Plains, a junior college in Texas.
Although Kidd has turned into a solid MEAC player and the Eagles appear to have discovered who they are without Sutton, Moton claimed he’s not all of a sudden some sort of coaching savant.
“I just draw on the board and yell,” Moton said. “That’s my job. I have no control over the execution that these guys have.
“You’re totally reliant and dependent upon 18- and 22-year-olds executing your game plan.”
So far, so good for NCCU minus Sutton, but the Eagles are not a better team without him, Moton said.
“Dominique Sutton, he was who he is,” Moton said. “We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now without Dominique Sutton, because Dominique showed these guys how to master their craft each day and how to work. So Dominique’s spirit is still upon this team.
“It’s basically become a snowball effect. That was Dominique Sutton. That had nothing to do with me.”