Battling for MEAC title, NCCU feels the hate
None of that chest bumping for N.C. Central’s Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman.
When he gets introduced before games as the Eagles’ starting point guard, he’ll run out like he’s going to collide with NCCU hype man Karamo Jawara before hitting the brakes in exchange for a little dance -- you might call it the Poobie Hustle.
That goes over just fine when NCCU is at home in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium, but it’s the sort of thing that could come off like fingernails on a chalkboard when the Eagles are on the road.
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said there’s little love for his team around the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as it is.
“We are the black Duke,” Moton said.
The Poobie Hustle doesn’t exactly engender warm fuzzies in hostile MEAC gyms, nor did NCCU guard Jeremy Ingram blaring his eyes and stretching open his mouth at A&T’s home crowd the way he did in December after knocking down shots in what turned into the Eagles’ first conference win of the season.
The Aggie-Eagle rivalry is bitter all by itself, and Ingram’s facial expressions certainly didn’t add any sugar to it.
“In the MEAC, we’re like the black Duke,” Moton said. “Every time we go somewhere else, we’re the hated team.
“Other schools look at North Carolina Central the way the ACC looks at Duke. We’ve got to be ready to embrace that challenge,” Moton said.
There’s plenty of basketball left in the season, but so far, pretty good for NCCU (12-7, 5-0 MEAC). The Eagles will look to stay undefeated in the MEAC when they host Morgan State (6-10, 3-2 MEAC) tonight (7:30 p.m., nccueaglepride.com).
NCCU is in second place in the MEAC, behind Norfolk State (12-10, 7-0), which won last season’s MEAC tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Norfolk State and NCCU are the only MEAC teams that are undefeated in the league.
Moton said the bad blood toward NCCU can be traced to the success NCCU had back in the 1950s when Sam Jones was there before a career with the Boston Celtics that landed him in the NBA’s hall of fame.
In 1972, NCCU won the MEAC football championship, and Moton said the guys on that team could tell all about how vilified that Eagles squad was.
Moton said he remembers the hateful gyms he entered when he played basketball for NCCU.
“Our game was their Super Bowl,” Moton said. “Everyone just had a hate – a genuine hate and a genuine dislike – for North Carolina Central University.”
This is NCCU’s second season as a Division I program. The move up gives the Eagles a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament. The journey to get to Division I came with some severe beatings from better teams, and there were a whole lot of folks out there who loved everything about that, Moton said.
“People were happy that we were getting our head beat in because we chose to move into Division I,” Moton said.
But now NCCU is administering some beatings.
The hate hasn’t gone anywhere, Moton said.
“It’s almost like Central-A&T everywhere we go,” Moton said last week after NCCU handled Howard 71-36 in McDougald-McLendon. “We’re fortunate to get here and just breathe our type of oxygen and see familiar faces.”
If Moton is right about NCCU being the “black Duke,” then it’s a problem any coach should want, former Duke basketball coach Bucky Waters said.
“There’s a difference between being liked and being respected,” said Waters, who was coaching Duke in the early 1970s. “And you talk about being hated, that means you’re winning; that means you’re successful.”
Most folks used to be ho-hum about Duke basketball until 1959, Waters said. That’s when first-year Duke coach Vic Bubas went to New York and worked on Art Heyman, the highly prized prospect coming out of high school that year.
Bubas got his man, snagging Heyman “from the front porch” of North Carolina coach Frank McGuire, Waters said.
“And that started the incredible rivalry that we have today,” Waters said about Duke and UNC. “And that’s incredible only because both teams have been up there and stayed up there, and it’s been a marvelous display of endurance by both.”
Waters said Moton is a “very classy guy, and for all I know about him, he’s going places. But right now he’s got his hands full, and part of his problem is trying to generate interest in this area.”
Duke, UNC and N.C. State get most of the attention around here.
But there’s a stir in the Eagles’ nest.
“It’s a little different when you’ve got that bull’s-eye on your back,” Moton said. “As we win and progress and evolve, we’re starting to have that bull’s-eye on our back, and teams are going to come in and we’re going to get their best shot.”
That’s the price a program pays for playing winning basketball, Waters said.
“All coaches have the same number of practices, the same number of games, the same number of days on the road recruiting,” Waters said. “Everything is the same, except the fervor and the passion with which your team is held. Is it one of zeal and animosity? And all of that bodes because you are good; you are successful. If you’re mediocre, it’s not so much. All coaches strive to be in that top 25, have people shooting at you, have that bull’s-eye on your back, whatever cliché fits. That’s more preferable, but there’s a price to pay for that. You need to get tougher. Your family needs to get tougher in terms of dealing with the public. It’s all part of the business.”
Moton gets that.
“Nobody hates you if you’ve never been successful,” Moton said. “Nobody hates a loser.”