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NC Central basketball coach visits Daniels, his former middle school

By Nolan McCaskill
nmccaskill@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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RALEIGH N.C. Central men’s basketball coach Levelle Moton shared his playbook with a different team Friday.

Moton, 39, months removed from the Eagles’ first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship and NCAA tournament bid, talked with the Blue Jackets’ roster of students at Daniels Middle School about the plays that those around him drew up for him to succeed, on and off the court.

Bob Schmalfield coached Moton in football and basketball at Daniels, where he graduated in 1988. Before introducing Moton to the students, Schmalfield told them that he didn’t do anything to improve Moton’s game, making the point that everything they need to be successful as well is already within them.

“What made him great was what he brought with him,” Schmalfield said. “He brought it from inside. I didn’t have to bring it out of him.”

But Moton was much less modest about his former coach’s impact.

“That man changed my entire life,” Moton said. “He was the first person to challenge me and tell me that I really wasn’t as good of a basketball player as I thought I was, and he had a plan to make me better.”

Schmalfield kicked Moton out of a basketball practice in eighth grade, treating him like any other person instead of as a special talent. That moment, as well as what came after, earned Moton’s respect.

Moton lived in a part of Raleigh that not a lot of people would come to, he said. But Schmalfield would, and he did.

“Every Friday night, and I don’t know if he even remembers this, but it meant the world to me,” Moton said. “He would come to my apartment and pick me up and take me to all the local high school basketball games so I could kinda foreshadow my future, so I could see and envision what he was ultimately trying to push me to.

“And I respect him for that. Honestly, he’s the coach that changed my life, man.”

Moton, N.C. Central’s head coach since 2009 who has earned the MEAC Coach of the Year and Most Outstanding Coach awards, said his favorite part about coaching, other than winning, is seeing his athletes graduate.

“That’s the most incredible thing a coach could ever see,” he said.

Three days after extending what was already the Eagles most successful season as a Division I team by claiming the conference championship over Morgan State, however, Moton experienced a difficult time.

Moton got a call saying his then-15-month-old son had knocked over a cup of coffee that spilled onto his head and dripped down his face.

“I had to rush home, and when I got there, I didn’t even notice my child,” he said. “That’s how badly burned that he was.”

Moton’s wife, Bridget Moton, cried as she later saw her son in tears in North Carolina’s Jaycee Burn Center.

“I just remember telling my team,” he said, “ ‘I’m not going. I’m not coaching the team tomorrow.’

“And the doctors came in, and when they washed his face, all of his skin came off. That’s how bad it was. I just didn’t feel like I could leave my child in that condition. At that particular moment, basketball meant absolutely nothing to me.”

His son is doing well now, he said. But now the attention is on Moton himself as NBA and college teams continue to look his direction.

“It’s a difference between looking for jobs and listening for jobs,” Moton said. “You just listen. I think you owe it to yourself just to listen, as a professional, as a young professional, in the business because it changes.”

Moton said N.C. Central and his agent have been in contact, but he tries to stay out of those discussions.

McCaskill: 919-829-4567
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