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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Learn more about Iowa State’s NCAA Tournament opponent, the East Region’s 14-seed, North Carolina Central in this press conference transcript from head coach Level Moton. The Eagles are the 2014 MEAC champions and ended the season on a 20-game winning streak.
COACH MOTON: Good evening. Obviously it’s our first time here, so we’re ecstatic about that. However, we do understand that this is big‑boy basketball. This is pretty much the major leagues, and we definitely have our hands full with what I believe is the best offensive team in the country in Iowa State. They’ve got an incredible coach in Fred Hoiberg who is doing an outstanding job with that team, year‑in and year‑out.
However, our guys understand while we’re here, we accept that. We embrace the underdog role. We’ve all been underdogs our entire lives anyway, so we’re just trying to find comfort in discomfort, and we’re just going to come out and compete as hard as we possibly can and see what happens.
Q. Hey, LeVelle. For your guys, Jay was talking about how he saw the police motorcycles come up by the pass and thought it was an accident or something, and he realized they were stopping traffic for you guys. Obviously, this is an experience, things like that, that you want them to enjoy and savor. Is there a balance that you have to strike between kind of having your eyes open and getting back to business?
COACH MOTON: We just had that conversation 20 minutes ago, before we left the hotel. That’s one of the biggest challenges for me as a coach, because I want them to enjoy every moment. This is not your birth right to be at the final four every single year, especially coming from where we come from.
So I want them to endure that and embrace that. But on the flip side, I told them tomorrow all of that has to be out of your system. Go ahead and meet Craig Sager, go ahead and meet Marv Albert, take your pictures, put your cowboy hats on, and cowboy boots and whatever you have to do, but tomorrow is back to business, because DeAndre Kane and those guys don’t care about the first round. Their goal is to get to the final four. They’re playing for their draft status. They’re playing to take care of their families forever. So you have to find a chip on your shoulder. You have to find a why.
You know, it’s tough because we’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and a lot of people are patting them on their back. On campus for the last three or four days, they’ve been rock stars. They have been rock stars and deservedly so. But they’ve got to turn off that switch real soon.
Q. Third year at the top level of basketball. Did this happen even maybe faster than you expected it would to get here, or is this the timeline you always envisioned?
COACH MOTON: This was pretty much the timeline. When I was hired, I remember sitting in front of our committee and I gave them a 67‑page manual, and my closing statement was, if you hire me, we will win a championship in my fifth year here. I believed that. I just think anytime you’re in a leadership position, you have to have a conviction of your beliefs. If not, no one else is going to follow you. I pretty much laid out that blueprint. It wasn’t that I was a prophet or anything, it’s just I had an advantage because I attended the university and I knew what it took to get through the transition.
I had my eyes on some high school juniors and a couple of transfers. I said by the time I develop them and they understand our vernacular and our fabric of who we are, it will be the fifth year and we’ll win a championship.
Q. Were there any specific moments as you guys are going through this season where you caught yourself saying, man, we might be an NCAA tournament team? Is there anything specific you can point to?
COACH MOTON: I would say the N.C. State win, and I won’t say that because we defeated N.C. State. I would say that because of our attitude prior to going into that game. I let the cat out of the bag. I don’t know if Poobie had told you, but when we scheduled that game, he came into my office, and this was the latter part of the summer and he said I can’t wait for this game. I want you to highlight that game.
I said, for what? Come on, man. We’re worried about the MEAC. He said no, we’re going to definitely win this basketball game because I’ve got a point to prove to them. He was a Raleigh kid that felt like he was passed over. His attitude was infectious amongst our team.
So when they went in there, the way they played, they were never tight. They never doubted themselves at any minute of the game. If we were in there playing shirt and skins you’d be hard‑pressed to tell who was N.C. State and who was North Carolina Central.
So after that game I realized if we approach every game with that mindset, the sky is the limit for us.
Q. You had to beat bigger teams to win the MEAC tournament, Norfolk State and Morgan State. Is there a difference in approach to beat a big Big 12 Conference team?
COACH MOTON: I’ve always said this about the Big 12, in any conference that’s pretty much superior, in order to win in those elite conferences such as that, those power conferences, you have to have three pros. They definitely have three pros. Typically, I don’t know. I think this is the first year Kansas hasn’t won it in a while, but they’ve always had three pros. That is just a blueprint that you must have.
So the difference between the teams that we’ve played in our conference that’s been bigger, faster, stronger and this team is they’ve got at least three pros on their team. When you let that marinade, you’ve got your hands full, because at any moment any one of those kids can kill you.
That’s not to say the other four, because they’re probably seven deep, the other four players are just as critical because they’re equivalent to what KJ is for us. KJ, you’re not going to look at a stat sheet and he is going to woo you away, but he’s the glue to what we do, and that’s pretty much what Iowa State is. Fred has done an outstanding job assembling that team, and they’re really tough to beat.
Q. For somebody like me who is a good 1,000 miles away from Durham, what’s it like there? How hard is it for you to get attention being in the middle of all of that basketball? Have you cut into that at all this year?
COACH MOTON: I would like to think so. My AD and my chancellor on the bus ride over here just showed us a billboard that we’re splitting in half with Duke. I think it said congratulations on the NCAA tournament and it’s out there on the interstate. So that’s a lot of headway with that what we just went through.
I always use the analogy if I’m a new start up businessman coming into Tobacco Road, and I have Warren Buffett and Bill Gates five and ten miles away from me, then I need to go rub shoulders with them and see what is the blueprint for success, at least in their eyes.
I thank Coach K. and I thank Roy Williams because they received me with open arms from day one. And I’m fortunate that my job doesn’t depend on whether I’ve got to beat Duke or Carolina twice a year. But they’ve been tremendous from day one. I go to practices. Any time I get ready, they call me. They text me just to checkup on me. And those guys have been tremendous because they’ve given us a paradigm on how a successful program should be run.
When it’s all said and done, they’re arguably going to be on the Mount Rushmore of coaches. Now the flip side of that is you can get swallowed up in that, as you guys know. But we’ve got to go out there and fight for our respect, and I think we’ve done that up to this point. Right now we’re receiving our fair share of notoriety and publicity to a tremendous school who has been pretty much the foundation of basketball as we know it.
It’s funny how it’s coming back full circle because John McClendon, who served as North Carolina Central’s head coach in the ’40s, and the ’50s, invented the fast break, invented the four corners, and that is something that Dean Smith even said. Look, I got this from this guy. So it all comes back full circle in time.
Q. Coach, you mentioned your players kind of wanting them to be able to adjust well to the big stage. Has it impacted you at all? Is there anything you’ve tried to do to make sure you keep your head where it needs to be?
COACH MOTON: Yeah, it’s been ‑‑ this week has been a roller coaster for me both emotionally and personally. Obviously, winning the championship was huge, but it’s been tough because some of you guys have probably heard my son, he’s one, Tuesday night we had to rush him to the hospital. He had an accident and he knocked over some coffee and it spilled on his face. Right now he’s in the hospital, and I stayed there with him on Tuesday night. I’ve been calling, checking up on him, and he’s still there. You know, it makes it hard to enjoy. You work your entire life to get to this moment, and one thing I learned is that success is nothing without someone that you love to share it with. I walk into an incredible hotel that looks like an apartment and I’m in there by myself, and it just doesn’t feel the same with my son and my daughter and my wife who sacrifice so much to allow me to become a better person and a better basketball coach, and this unfortunate situation, this unfortunate accident that they’re not here. That’s my ritual before the game.
So that’s humbled me. That’s put the pin to my balloon right there. So I’ve just got to get myself together, which I will, to go coach these 12, 13 young men that we have.