Adversity? It's just fuel for NCCU coach LeVelle Moton's inner fire
There is a bicycle in the shed at the home of LeVelle Moton’s mother. It’s from his father, and Moton told the Durham Sports Club on Wednesday that he’s never ridden it.
The bike was a birthday gift, and Moton, 9 or 10 at the time, said he wouldn’t have anything to do with it because it was from his father.
“I never accepted it,” Moton told the gathering at Croasdaile Country Club. “I always felt like if I ever rode that bike it would be me accepting him leaving, and I never did that.”
Years before the bike showed up adorned with a bow and a letter, Moton said his father had come home one day and asked everyone what they wanted from the store.
“He walked out the door, and we never saw him again,” Moton said. “I was abandoned by my father.”
That memory became a log that Moton said he has used to fuel the fire for his success as the head basketball coach at N.C. Central, after a playing career that saw him develop into a terrific scorer as a shooting guard.
NCCU went 22-9 under Moton this season, which earned him MEAC co-coach of the year honors from CollegeInsider.com.
Moton was a finalist for awards that would have recognized him as the country’s top minority coach and as the nation’s best mid-major coach.
“He’s a pretty good coach,” Durham Sports Club program chairman Tommy Hunt said while introducing Moton. “We’re proud that you’re in Durham, and we hope that you’ll stay in Durham. I don’t know that that will happen or not.”
Pain, Moton said, is what drives him.
“This world is cruel. It doesn’t apologize,” Moton said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. In order for you to be successful, I think you have to use your pain as motivation.”
Moton expressed the hurt in his heart for the people impacted by Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon.
“I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts, a section called Roxbury, a housing project called Orchard Park,” Moton said. “We were the murder capital of the world.”
Orchard Park provided several logs for Moton’s fire. People assume that’s where he fell in love with basketball, but Moton said his inspiration was coming both from the so-called Queen of Disco and some guys who might be regarded as the second coming of the Jackson 5.
The late disco diva Donna Summer lived in Orchard Park, and so did members New Edition, Moton said. Moton and his friends in Orchard Park didn’t believe that Bobby Brown — who would go on to marry the late Whitney Houston — and his New Edition singing buddies actually had the No.1 song in the country until they saw them performing on “Soul Train.”
The 1980s crack epidemic made Orchard Park’s rough situation rougher, so Moton and his brother and mom moved to Raleigh, where they continued to live in public housing, but the conditions seemed better here, the coach said.
Along Tobacco Road, Moton said he got into basketball upon noticing that the girls didn’t give him any extra attention after that time he threw a couple of touchdown passes during a football game.
Another critical log was added to Moton’s fire in high school when his sweetheart kicked him to the curb, presumably because he used a lunch ticket since his mom couldn’t afford lunch money. Moton, after some direct words from his mother, vowed never to let another person dictate the terms of his happiness.
“I keep that lunch ticket in my wallet every single day,” Moton said, displaying the memorabilia.
After a professional basketball career overseas, Moton coached middle school basketball in Raleigh, where he said players like John Wall, now with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, made him look good.
While coaching at Raleigh’s Sanderson High School, Moton said he began training Jerry Stackhouse, who played basketball at North Carolina and is one of the elder statesmen in the NBA.
Moton said he helped develop the skills of future NBA stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony before the opportunity opened for him to join the coaching staff at NCCU.
Later, when Moton was up for a promotion at his alma mater, he said he was asked how he’d get around not having any head coaching experience on the college level. Moton answered that as the product of housing projects that included pimps, winos, pastors, single mothers and loan sharks, if he was able to navigate those waters, he could handle a few college kids.
“Coaching is not about Xs and Os and drawing plays,” Moton explained, pulling from lessons he said he learned from UNC coach Roy Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, his mentors. Coaching is about managing a diverse assortment of personalities, he said.
Moton said he is no better on the bench now than he was when he coached middle school. If fact, Moton said this year’s NCCU team wasn’t the most talented he’s assembled during his four years as head coach, but he was able to effectively manage their personalities.
“We were all moving in the same direction,” Moton said.