Developing a ‘culture’ the key to growth of LeVelle Moton’s North Carolina Central program

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North Carolina Central’s LeVelle Moton (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

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This summer was a busy one for North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton, and all things considered it’s understandable as to why.

In 2013-14, Moton led his alma mater to 28 wins and the MEAC’s regular season and tournament titles, earning the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament appearance. Among the things on Moton’s plate this summer were his receiving the key to the city of Durham, where he grew up, and releasing a book entitled “The Worst Times are the Best Times.”

Yet the task of getting Moton to write the book was a difficult one for former Raleigh News and Observer sportswriter Edward G. Robinson III. Robinson worked hard to convince Moton, who, over the years, has spoken at a number of events around the Triangle area [Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill], to write a book about his life. It took some convincing, but ultimately Robinson’s persistence paid off and the two worked together on the project.

“I told [Robinson] that if I write a book it can’t be about basketball,” Moton told NBCSports.com this week. “If I do it I want to help kids, help and inspire them. I know there are so many kids who grew up the way I grew up, and they need an outlet. They need a voice. And they don’t have the things that I had to help me navigate my way through life.

“I had ‘The Cosby Show.’ I had ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.’ I had ‘Good Times,'” Moton continued. “These kids have ‘Love and Hip Hop.’ There’s nothing to help them make up for the father figure that they may not have. I wrote each chapter, and at the end of the book the only thing was coming up with the title. I went back and found that the worst times were the best times, and that was the title of the book.”

RELATED: MEAC Preview | SWAC Preview

Those experiences not only helped Moton reach the place where he is today, but they also helped as he took on the job of shepherding his alma mater through the transition to Division I back in 2009. It takes a lot to build a program, especially when also having to balance the move from one level of college athletics to another. The level of competition changes, as does the pool from which a coach has to recruit as he looks to build a championship-caliber program. For some, the climb may prove too steep, with the concerns about what resources aren’t available overriding the ability to focus on what is currently accessible.

Moton refused to allow that to be an issue as they went through the process of building the North Carolina Central program.

“I eliminated all excuses,” Moton noted. “Me taking over this program was pretty much synonymous with how I grew up in the housing projects. You know what you don’t have, so there’s no need to worry about what you don’t have. Let’s focus on what we do have and how we can make that better, and the tangible goods we may not be able to afford we’ll make up for it through hard work and dedication and sacrifice.

“Because at the end of the day, someone can have a large arena but when you step between those lines, it’s still every man for himself. And that’s what I’ve tried to get our kids to understand. That’s the culture and that’s the attitude that I’ve tried to get them to have.”

To that point, Moton made note of the fact that players have to earn their gear, so a process that at many other schools is as simple as being measured by the equipment staff and then finding everything you need (and then some) in your locker takes on an entirely different meaning at North Carolina Central. The resulting hunger for success and dedication to the process contributed to North Carolina Central fielding a team in 2013-14 that won the MEAC in truly dominant fashion.

The Eagles were at or near the top of the MEAC in any of the major statistical categories both offensively and defensively, and in going 19-1 against conference competition 14 of their wins were by ten points or more (seven of those wins were by 20 points or more). North Carolina Central’s success was a product of the entire team working together, with senior guard Jeremy Ingram (20.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) leading the way and winning MEAC Player of the Year honors.

But Ingram and fellow seniors Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman and Alfonzo Houston have all moved on, meaning that new leaders have to step forward as the NCCU program faces it’s next challenge: defending a championship, with the proverbial bull’s eye squarely on their chests. And while Ingram’s numbers may jump out to many when assessing the production lost, this trio can’t be measured solely by the stats especially when considering the fact that Ingram and Chapman were first two players to play four seasons under Moton.

MORE: Tommy Amaker’s unprecedented success at Harvard | Ivy League Preview

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Jordan Parks (AP Photo)

“With Alfonzo we lose unselfishness; if Alfonzo was anywhere else he would have averaged 15 points per game,” Moton said. “He chose to defer to Poobie Chapman and Jeremy Ingram. And when you talk about Jeremy and Pooh, you don’t replace them because they were special. If you could replace them this year, they wouldn’t be special.”

“So you just try to recruit the best that you can and then you ask those guys to be the best ‘them’ that they can be, instead of trying to be the best ‘Jeremy Ingram’ or ‘Poobie Chapman’ that they can be,” Moton continued. “Because there’s no replacing those guys, from a leadership standpoint. They were my first four-year kids, so they saw the good, the bad and the ugly. So they had a different kind of hunger, as opposed to the kids who are coming in on the tail end of what [Jeremy and Poobie] have established.”

Two returnees who are expected to step forward as leaders are senior forwards Karamo Jawara and Jordan Parks. Jawara is one of two returning starters for the Eagles, coming off of a season in which he accounted for 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. As for Parks he proved to be an incredibly valuable reserve for North Carolina Central, accounting for 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in 19 minutes of action per contest. The 6-foot-7 Parks shot 65.9 percent from the field in 2013-14, leading the nation in field goal percentage.

They’ll be joined by some solid perimeter options, a group that includes Marquette transfer Jamal Ferguson, New Mexico JC transfer Rashaun Madison and Lamar graduate transfer Nimrod Hilliard. Hilliard averaged 11.5 points per game and was an honorable mention All-Southland selection last season. Both Ferguson (who sat out last season) and Madison are expected to compete for playing time. Yet putting a number on what this group can provide isn’t something Moton’s willing to do. His expectations have nothing to do with stats, because if reached the numbers will come.

“Just to step in and play as hard as they can, and be as coachable as they possibly can,” Moton said when asked about his expectations for the newcomers. “The ability is there, obviously; that’s why we recruited them. I just think that if you’re coachable and you commit to the culture of the team, get rid of your bad habits and accept and embrace how we do things here, you’ll be fine.”

Culture.

It’s a word that’s incredibly popular in sports, as it’s a critical factor in not just reaching the goal of winning a championship but building a program capable of making a run on a consistent basis. To this point North Carolina Central has built, with a clear target in mind, something that was attained a season ago. And while their target won’t change, the circumstances do to a certain extent. Once the hunter, now the Eagles are the hunted, and how they respond will have a significant impact on their fortunes in 2014-15.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” Moton noted. “You’re not sneaking up on teams anymore, and that’s exactly how we have to train and how we must prepare. The thing about success is you have to maintain that and you have to sustain that, and that’s really more difficult than trying to climb to the top of that mountain.”

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.