Warrenton’s Moseley central to Eagles’ success

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 12:19 AM

College basketball fans, pundits and coaches around the state — and country — are taking notice of the on-court cohesion and family-like atmosphere that characterizes the N.C. Central basketball program.

Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones couldn’t pinpoint the source of his opponent’s ability to play as one following a loss to NCCU in the semifinals of the recent Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament. Jones’ Spartans, playing at home, had a size advantage. But the Eagles have something that can’t be measured.

“Do I think they’re the most talented team in the league? Maybe not,” said Jones. “But they have the best teamwork, which makes them the best team. I don’t really know exactly what they do over there to get that bond the way it is, but you can tell those guys like playing with each other — and they’ll do anything. They’re really brothers on the court.”

NCCU claimed a 68-45 win over Norfolk State before clinching the MEAC tourney title over Morgan State, 71-62. On Friday, the Eagles will make their first NCAA Tournament appearance after receiving full Division I membership in the summer of 2011. The school won the Division II title in 1989.

Senior point guard Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman is one of the few four-year players on an Eagles roster loaded with transfers. The 6-foot-1 Raleigh Enloe product credits "moments," rather than lessons learned on the court, with creating a seemingly unbreakable team bond.

Warrenton’s John Moseley, NCCU’s associate head coach, became the focal point of one of those life lessons last fall.

Support system

John’s mother, Nell, spent a few weeks at his home in Durham leading up to the 2013-2014 season while she received radiation therapy at UNC.

Shortly after returning to the Triangle from a season-opening loss at Cincinnati, Moseley received word from his sister, Kim, that he needed to come home.

Moseley, 37, was with his mother at the family’s home in Warrenton when she passed away.   

“I almost believed in my heart she held on for me to get home,” said Moseley.

When Moseley entered the Jerusalem United Methodist Church for the funeral, the NCCU team — including head coach LeVelle Moton — was waiting inside to pay its respect.

“We knew we had to do it,” Chapman said of the 56-mile trip north from Durham to the rural town of Wise. “It was a no-brainer. We knew we had to support him and his mother.”

Chapman said the Eagles have a connection with the entire Moseley family. Nell, and husband, Herbert, were regulars on gamedays at NCCU’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.

“She’s one of those ladies you meet and you think you never have to worry about passing away,” Chapman said of Nell. “It’s just the kind of spirit she had — and you see the same thing in Coach Moseley all the time.”

Moseley calls his father his biggest fan and jokes about Herbert’s penchant for antagonizing referees. He was in Norfolk to watch the Eagles celebrate the MEAC championship.

Moseley had assistant coaching stints at Delaware, Winston-Salem State, and East Carolina prior to joining NCCU’s staff. The 1996 Warren County graduate also led his alma mater to a state championship appearance in 2005, one of two seasons spent at the helm of the varsity boys program.

The elder Moseley has adopted each team John has been a part of as his own.

“Not as many people see guys who sleep on the floor just barely making enough to pay the rent,” John Moseley said of the coaching lifestyle. “At that point, you have to have somebody believe in you. And my parents did.”

Moseley believes his mother’s death in November had an impact on the team; NCCU followed the Cincinnati loss with six consecutive wins, including triumphs over N.C. State and Old Dominion.

“Those kinds of moments don’t show up in records, in wins,” said Chapman. “Those things contribute more than maybe practice. It has a lot to do with team bonding.”

And Moseley has a lot to do with team — everything — from running summer camps to helping the Eagles’ point guard choose his classes.

“Coach Moseley is a head coach,” said Chapman, who ranks eighth nationally in assists (6.3). “The thing that makes us so difficult to scout and play against is we have two head coaches. He’s like another head coach on the sidelines.”

Not flying solo

Moseley and Moton didn’t know each other when Moseley sent the NCCU head coach a Facebook message, inquiring about a position on his staff.

It took Moton about a month to respond, but after he did, the rest is history. The Eagles went from 15 wins in Moseley’s first season as an assistant in 2010-2011 to 28 wins this season and a MEAC double.

No. 14 seed NCCU (28-5) is riding a 20-game win streak entering the East Regional second-round contest against No. 3 Iowa State (26-7).

The Eagles departed for San Antonio Wednesday after a swarm of fans dressed in maroon and gray gathered in front of the NCCU gym to send off the team.

“It’s awesome,” Moseley said of the energy around campus. “As a coach, I don’t think you appreciate it until much further down the road. You’re excited, but you know you have some more work ahead.”

Moseley experienced the NCAA Tournament as an administrative assistant under head coach Brad Brownell at Wright State in 2007, but his current role requires more of a hands-on approach, making this trip to the postseason more meaningful.

Moseley saw signs of something special for NCCU on the horizon during that initial 15-15 campaign when the Eagles took Oklahoma to overtime in Norman before falling.

“From that day, you could see this building,” Moseley said.

Moton, Moseley and the Eagles built a program that expects to win. They aren’t satisfied just being participants in the tourney, Moseley said.

Moseley calls his own path to basketball coaching success a journey. Like the rise of the NCCU program itself, Moseley’s journey has been one centered on family, starting with the devoted support from his parents.

And then there’s Moseley’s wife, Crystal, a Warren County native and educator who has earned teacher of the year honors at three different stops along her husband’s coaching trail. The couple has a daughter, Jillian.

“It’s not just my journey,” said John Moseley. “I can promise you.”

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.