by Mike Potter
McLENDON-McDOUGALD GYM/DURHAM LeVelle Moton knew exactly what he was getting into when he took the job as men's head basketball coach at N.C. Central in the spring following the end of Henry Dickerson's contract.
After all Moton (pictured), an NCCU Athletics Hall of Famer for his playing career, had already been an assistant with the program for the previous two seasons in the team's first two as transitional members of NCAA Division I.
He and his Eagles will get plenty of exposure in their very first game Wednesday night, when they travel to defending NCAA champion UNC for a 9 p.m. game at the Smith Center. UNC (1-0) is ranked No. 4, and the game which is part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will be shown on ESPNU. NCCU went 4-27 last season, winning the same number of games as the Eagles had the year before.
Monday was "media day" for both of NCCU's basketball teams. Veteran coach Joli Robinson's women's squad, which had some more regular success last season in a 10-17 campaign, won't have an easy season opener either. Robinson's club will visit Maryland on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Moton said the opener against the Tar Heels is just the kind of game NCCU will have to play from now on. They have already played at more big-time schools than one can count on two hands including all of the state's ACC "Big Four," and two years ago the Eagles visited then-defending NCAA champion Florida.
"I just felt as if (the scheduling) was just meant to happen," Moton said. "I've told the guys, this is something we wanted trying to become D-I and get our program prepared. It's like trying to get into a party or into a dance, and they finally let you in. You can't sit against the wall and complain about the music that the D.J. is playing. You've just got to go out there and do your best two-step and whatever happens, happens. Our first dance is with Carolina. She's a pretty good dancer, but we've got to try to keep up with her."
Moton said there's no way his team can just throw its five players onto the floor against the Tar Heels and expect to play a respectable game. He said he may even start the game with four guards on the floor.
When more reasonable assignments arise, the starters will probably be three returnees - 5-7 junior Michael Glasker (2.8, 1.1 rebs. last season) at the point, 6-2 junior Vincent Davis (11.2, 4.0) on the wing and 6-5 senior Joshua Worthy (1.7, 2.4) at power forward - and newcomer J.C. transfers C.J. Wilkerson at shooting guard and T.J. Granger at the post.
Wilkerson was rated by The Sporting News as the top "newcomer" among Division I Independents, the same designation that went to 6-8 J.C. transfer Lamar Pittman last year. Pittman has yet to play after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the fall of 2008, but has been medically cleared to play and is expected to go in the home opener against N.C. Wesleyan on Nov. 18.
Robinson's team has already played an exhibition game, winning 63-51 over Johnson C. Smith on Sunday.
The Eagle women's team will play five ACC opponents this season including UNC and Duke.
"I've never been afraid to play against strong competition," Robinson said. "What you worry about is if this competition will kill your athletes' confidence. We just don't have the depth that the big major schools have. I hope we get there. I don't plan on us playing five ACC schools again after this year. Hopefully being in the MEAC (beginning in 2010-11) we won't have to do that."
Robinson's team will play without senior forward Jori Nwachukwu, who is being redshirted after suffering a leg injury last January.
Sophomore forward Chasidy Williams, who was NCCU's leading scorer last season, is also injured and will not be available for the first few games of the season.
Robinson said sophomores 5-5 Blaire Houston (9.2, 2.5) and 5-5 Danielle DeBerry (5.2, 2.5) will start in the backcourt, with 5-9 senior Latoya Bennett (4.2, 6.2) and 5-8 junior Shanise Banks (1.8, 1.2) at forward and 6-0 junior Katrice Elliott (1.0, 1.1) at center.
She said 5-7 freshman Joanna Miller, who scored 23 points against JCSU, will be coming off the bench when the season begins.