Banks sees a winner in NCCU’s Moton

Feb. 03, 2013 @ 06:42 PM

Thing is, I didn’t recognize Gene Banks the other night when he sat in front of me at the Morgan State-N.C. Central game.

He had a head full of hair the last time I’d seen him on TV.

But once told that the tall, bald brother was Banks, I was like, “Oh, yeah – that bad mammajamma from Duke!”

The 1978 ACC rookie of the year, who played in the NBA, is a scout for the Washington Wizards. Banks was in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium to put his eyes on a kid from Morgan State, but he left liking what he saw out of three of NCCU coach LeVelle Moton’s guys.

Actually, Banks liked what the Eagles in general were doing.

NCCU’s tallest players are 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, while Morgan State had a 7-foot-2 guy in the starting lineup and brought a 6-foot-9 dude off the bench. So Moton spread the floor and dared the Bears to chase his smaller players, and NCCU won 69-61.

Uh, not that Banks was scouting coaches for the struggling Wizards, but he also left the gym thoroughly impressed with Moton.

“I’ve always liked him as a player. He’s just smart, intelligent, worked hard,” Banks said. “Then to find out and watch what he’s done with this program, I’m not just impressed but I’m just elated to see what he’s done.

“I watched how he coached. I watched how his players responded. I watched how he managed the game. I watched how he utilized different pieces and different situations.”

Everybody has fallen in love with Butler coach Brad Stevens and Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, who both run successful mid-major basketball programs.

Well, Banks would tell you that Moton is every bit as good as those guys.

“There’s no doubt he has as much integrity, gamesmanship and knowledge of the game that he could be doing the same thing if he was at those schools,” Banks said.

Duke beat Butler to win the 2010 national championship, and the Bulldogs also lost the same game to Connecticut the very next year.

But the point is that Butler cut in on the last dance on two occasions, and VCU waltzed in the 2011 Final Four.

Yet this season is just the second time NCCU even has been eligible for the NCAA tournament. Winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament next month would guarantee the Eagles a stop at the cobbler’s shop to get fitted for dancing shoes.

Norfolk State won the MEAC tournament last year. The Spartans are undefeated in league play this season, but so are Moton’s Eagles, who won at Delaware State on Saturday and tonight go to Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Banks on Moton: “He’s got these players all buying in to playing together as a team, and he has a no-nonsense approach to where, ‘This is how it has to be done. But if you’re gonna try to do it your way, it ain’t gonna work. It’s gotta be done this way.’”

Sounds like that Polish gentleman who coached Banks at Duke.

“Exactly,” Banks said. “Many people with their eyes, they just see wins and losses, crossovers and dunks. But I see what (Moton’s) doing. These kids really, really buy into it and they feed on it, and that’s the good thing that not many coaches have. We have coaches that are in the league now that have big programs, making big money, but they don’t have that.”

Raised by a single mama in housing projects in Boston and Raleigh, Moton can relate to the sort of budding basketball players who grow up fatherless and act like they don’t want discipline but really do, Banks said.

Some of those kids could be brilliant players for NCCU, and Moton is the guy who can get them to the campus on Fayetteville Street, Banks said.

“If I’m Central, I would go in at the end of the season and I would lock him in, give him a guaranteed contract for the next three years -- guaranteed,” Banks said. “His money needs to be upped at least another $35- to $50,000.”

NCCU already has done some of that.

Moton was hired in 2009, inking a five-year deal with NCCU that was to pay him $100,000 annually. This past July, Moton’s contract was extended a year.

Banks said NCCU needs to take care of Moton, homegrown, an alum whose squad is putting butts in seats.

“In real life, he’s got a family, and he’s got to be taken care of, too,” Banks said.

Moton and his wife just gave their little girl a baby brother, and Pampers ain’t cheap.

NCCU can’t afford to say it has no extra money for Moton, Banks said.

“You’re going to have to create a budget to keep a person like that, or you’re going to lose out,” Banks said.

A spokesman for Norfolk State said he wasn’t aware of any coaching offers extended to Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans after his Spartans, a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament a year ago, beat No. 2 seed Missouri.

Banks talks like NCCU shouldn’t take that kind of chance, even though Moton has yet to win big.

“I would say to Central, this is something you have to commit yourself to, because you’ve got a good product,” Banks said. “Now what you have to do is keep putting money into the product and make it bigger and better.”

Reach John McCann at jmccann@heraldsun.com; 919-419-6601