DURHAM, NC — To say that NCCU head coach Levelle Moton has carved out his own legacy under the shadow of John McLendon is not hyperbole. It’s fact.
There’s a larger-than-life photo of the two-time Basketball Hall of Famer attached to the walls of the building — McDougald-McLendon Arena — which also bears his name.
Monday night Moton picked up his 240th career victory in that gym as NCCU dominated Coppin State 85-52 to surpass the legend himself on the school’s all-time wins list with his photo towering above the court.
“As far as John McLendon, I mean I may have passed him in victories, but, you know, the impact that he’s had on the game in terms of being a pioneer and a trailblazer…you know, he took a lot of butt-whoopins so I didn’t have to go through it.”
McLendon coached at North Carolina College from 1940 through 1952, winning 81 percent of his games and leading the school to a combined eight CIAA titles between the regular season and conference tournaments. He ultimately left the school following the 1952 season when the administration attempted to cut the athletics budget. He would go on to coach at Hampton Institute, Tennessee A&I, Kentucky State and Cleveland State along with a pro coaching career that would result in him being named a Hall of Famer twice. First as a contributor and eventually as a basketball coach.
For LeVelle Moton, there is no comparison.
“It’s not even parallel to even compare me to him in no regard. I definitely appreciate it. I’m humble, I’m honored. But, you know, he was coaching, during Jim Crow. He was coaching during Segregation, before Brown versus Board of Education, before Civil Rights Act, before Fair Housing Act — before everything. He paved the way for coaches like me.”
Young Levelle Moton got the chance to meet McLendon during his playing days at North Carolina Central 1990s, leaving a lasting impact on him. He said his team doused him with water after the game and told him to embrace the moment.
“I don’t want to make it about me. These guys played great tonight and they’ve gotten me to this point. My team and the teams in the past have gotten me to this point. You know, it wasn’t a popular hire, contrary to popular belief.”
Moton was hired as the head coach of his alma mater back in 2009 as the school was transitioning from Division I to Division II. Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, the coach supporters weren’t sure of has led NCCU to a special era of his own. He owns four MEAC Tournament titles and his win total now trails only Floyd Brown — the man that replaced the legend back in 1952. Brown won 251 games.
He recalled a conversation with then-Director of Athletics Dr. Ingrid Wicker-McCree, who asked him to go out to lunch with supporters to assuage any trepidation they may have had about hiring a man that had never been a head coach before.
“She said, I want you to go to lunch and prove to them why you deserve to be hired,” Moton revealed. “And I just told her… I said, I’m not going to do that because the people that trust you will never ask you to prove it to them. Right. Jesus couldn’t prove everything that everybody. I just got to be the best version of myself and whoever likes it, that’s fine. Whoever don’t like it, that’s fine. But I can’t go.I’ll be going to lunch with the entire world if I just looked at lunch with people that was going to criticize me about it. So I’ve always believed in myself, and I thank her for giving me the opportunity, along with Bill Hayes.”
When asked if he’d won over those doubters, Moton let out a brief laugh and said that he hoped so. But the success that he’s had means that the bar has been raised.
“Coaching this fickle — so you lose a game and you’re probably the worst coach out,” Moton answered. “I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. We’ve had a lot of success here and everyone has been spoiled.”