A tale of two winners

Mar. 25, 2014 @ 09:07 PM

Whatever the "it factor" is, two guys recently here in AT&T Center have a corner on that quality.

Iowa State point guard DeAndre Kane put the Cyclones in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament using a tough basket with 1.9 seconds left against North Carolina in the third round of the Big Dance on Sunday.

Kane’s an old man at 24, and he looked like he needed a cane to get up and down the court toward the end of the UNC game. He played 39 of 40 minutes, and fatigue was setting in on him, but he just has a certain je ne sais quoi.

“He’s just a winner at heart, and he’s just made of steel,” Iowa State forward Georges Niang said. “Nothing’s going to break him down. He’s always going to rise to the occasion.”

Before Iowa State beat N.C. Central 93-75 in round two of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said his Eagles were about to do business with some guys who wouldn’t just be trying to win a basketball game but also dudes who’d have their minds on improving their NBA draft status in order to take care of their families.

Kane, a senior, has at least one more game to add to his résumé

Moton’s résumé already looks pretty good.

For the second straight season, Moton, the coach of the year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is a finalist for both the Ben Jobe Award and the Hugh Durham Award, both of them national, Division I basketball coach of the year honors by CollegeInsider.com.

The Ben Jobe Award specifically salutes the best minority coach. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who both played at Duke, are finalists.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall is a finalist for the Hugh Durham Award.

On Monday, Marshall was named coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

So that gives you an appreciation for the kind of company Moton keeps.

He’s got the ‘it’ factor.

Like Kane, Moton’s a winner, pressing the right buttons this season to get NCCU into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

The Eagles didn’t arrive at the Big Dance on an overnight flight.

But, generally speaking, Moton’s success as NCCU’s head coach has come relatively quickly.

NCCU started playing Division I basketball during the 2007-08 season but became eligible for the NCAA Tournament just in 2011.

Moton, 39, signed a five-year contract with NCCU in 2009 that was to pay him $100,000 annually. Since then, Moton and NCCU agreed to at least one 12-month contract extension.

You have to believe that somewhere out there is one athletics director who at least mentally is crafting a more lucrative deal for Moton, whose next move would make him a millionaire.

When Moton took over the NCCU basketball program, the Eagles were getting creamed in guaranteed games.

Guaranteed games are when more-established, typically larger schools pay for usually not-so-good teams to show up for predictable beat downs.

Moton began game planning to find a way to close the margin of victory by those big-boy schools. Consistency in that regard would mean progress for NCCU, he said.

Well, big-boy schools aren’t so eager to play NCCU nowadays. Guaranteed games with the Eagles no longer are guaranteed wins.

This season, NCCU played Wichita State and Cincinnati real tough, and NCCU beat N.C. State, a big-boy school in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

NCCU has gotten progressively better under Moton. That’s reflected in NCCU’s wins and losses since he became the head coach. The Eagles are 50-15 over the past two seasons.

Moton once told me how all players and coaches in the MEAC aspire to play and coach at the highest level. That’s why players transfer from college to college. It’s why coaches accept other gigs.

From what I can gather, NCCU wouldn’t be able to match the money that a higher-profile school would be able to offer Moton, if it came down to that.

But don’t question Moton’s loyalty if he leaves. Moton is that guy who organizes his high school reunions, according to one of his classmates.

Moton told the folks who hired him that he’d deliver a championship to NCCU in five years.

NCCU got into the NCAA Tournament after winning the MEAC Tournament, and the Eagles won the MEAC’s regular-season championship, too.

This was Moton’s fifth year on the job.

He knew exactly what he was talking about.

“Anytime you're in a leadership position, you have to have a conviction of your beliefs. If not, no one else is going to follow you,” Moton said. “I pretty much laid out that blueprint. It wasn't that I was a prophet or anything, it's just I had an advantage because I attended the university and I knew what it took to get through the transition. I had my eyes on some high school juniors and a couple of transfers. I said by the time I develop them and they understand our vernacular and our fabric of who we are, it will be the fifth year and we'll win a championship.”

Je ne sais quoi.

John McCann is @johntmccann on Twitter, or email him at jmccann@heraldsun.com.