Exclusive Interview: Coach Of The Year LeVelle Moton On Musical Chairs And New Edition
As Final Four wrapped up and UCONN took the championship, there was one story that was all the buzz this season: North Carolina Central University’s Coach LeVelle Moton, who led his team, The Eagles, to a place no one saw coming: Victory! The Eagles, an HBCU, became the 2014 MEAC Champions, making their very first appearance in the NCAA tournament to March Madness.
Sports commentators were taken by their remarkable victories during the season, and although they didn’t make it past the first round, their climb towards the title was commendable, thanks to Coach Moton, a father of two, husband and no stranger to coaching champions. During summer breaks he shares his training skills with NBA players including Chris Paul, John Wall, Grant Hill and more. He’s coached more than 45 NBA players over the years, however, when it comes to his team of young men, fresh out of high school with big dreams of making it to the NBA, he combines traditional family values with unique tactics on winning. Grooming his team from boys to men, preparing them for life off the court, not just basketball.
We sat down with the coach to discuss the buzz, his trial and triumphs, and what’s next for him.
First, we needed to find out how you and Brooklyn Nets star, Kevin Garnett, became friends at the age of 13…
We played AAU [Amateur Athletic Union], when we were kids. They have a camp called Nike Camp, sponsored by the footwear company, where they take the top 200 basketball players who are rising seniors and top players in the nation and put them at camp for a week, breaking us down into age groups. I was in the same age group as Kevin Garnett, so imagine letting 14 and 15-year-old children in a camp to teach the importance of education and athletics…in our spare time, we were goofing around and you develop this bond and friendship. Allen Iverson was my roommate…
We know that the odds of making it to the NBA are far and few between, what kind of advice do you offer your team before they step on the court?
The first thing I do when I get to campus, it’s corny, but the new guys don’t know what we’re doing… We have 15 guys on the team, so I would take 14 chairs and we’d play musical chairs in the gym. Once we get to the last person standing, I congratulate him and give him a lollipop…and then I tell them, “If you think it’s difficult playing musical chairs with 15 people, imagine what it’s like to get into NBA with 35 guaranteed spots.” It’s difficult to win a simple game with people you know, imagine trying to go to the NBA with millions of people trying to get those spots? There’s 400,000 Division 1 ball players, 400,000 Division 2 players, 300,000 Division 3 players, then another 150,000 overseas trying to come to the states. When you put all that together, these are your odds, not only do you have to be really good but it has to be God plan’s for you.
What are the most important lessons you teach your team?
The most important thing I teach my team is manhood. I let them know it’s hard out there in the real world, and I’m hard on them and hold them accountable every single day for every single thing they do. If they throw a ball away, you will hear from me, if they fail a test, they will hear from me. I use ball as metaphor to teach the game of life. I have 14 kids on the team, 10 are fatherless, or have insufficient dad’s…I demand the best of them because when they leave college and go out in the real world, no one cares how many averages you had. You have to be a man, father, husband and know how to manage a household.
You grew up in Roxbury, in Orchard Park, Boston, same as New Edition…when you look back at the tools you needed to make it out of the hood and to make something of yourselves, what was your biggest motivation?
I wanted to be them. OP was so bad at that time, crack was about to hit, the “New York Boys” (drug dealers who inspired the film In Too Deep) took over, friends were getting kidnapped, fingers getting chopped off. There was a lot of foolish, illegal activity and if you wronged somebody, you could possibly be killed, simply because you’re associated. As a kid, you don’t have a father, can’t leave the house, all you know is your surroundings, which can suppress your dreams if you have no one to uplift and enhance your dreams. Everything negative becomes conventional wisdom and you think this is your life and what it’s intended to be. New Edition showed me that I can make it out of this. When they became successful, from that point on I wanted to be them…I wanted to make it out and be successful.
What kind of advice can you offer to young men who may not have a father in the home and seeking a father figure in the wrong places?
My advice is: Number one, you have to be your own best friend. Our minds are conditioned to think we need confirmation from someone else to succeed or to be someone. It’s worse now because you’re doing it subconsciously, checking to see how many likes you get on Facebook or how many followers etc., life has become predicated off the approval of someone else. There will come a time in the world where the only person who believes in you, is you, not your mother or father because people are chasing their own dreams. Be your own best friend so that you can face yourself in the mirror. My father left me in OP when I was three or four-years-old, and the way he left could’ve destroyed my life. We had a rent party and he asked all the kids what we wanted from the store…he never came back. At about six-year-old, he bought me a brand new bike with a bow on it. I finally threw the bike away two years ago. I never rode it, never sat on it and pedaled. I used it as motivation for 30 years. There’s other positive role models out here. They may not be able to replace a father but you can find same characteristics [in someone you meet] at a rec center, community leader or wherever it may be. Don’t let it be a negative influence because then you have a built in excuse: “No daddy, let me shoot this dude.” The judge doesn’t care about your background, upbringing or that you don’t have a daddy…
Your son faced a terrible accident [one-year-old VJ was burned on his face as he knocked a cup of hot coffee off a counter] as you prepared for your last game before the NCAA tournament, how did you prepare yourself for such a critical moment in your team and your family life?
I was all messed up. In my mind, I convinced myself that there are 500 coaches who can train a team, but a child only gets one father. I wanted to stay with my son, but my wife told me to go. I had to come to terms with the same lessons I teach my team and apply those tools to myself. You gotta be tough and handle adversity because life will throw you a curve ball, but you’ve got to be able to pick it up and go on.