Feb 18, 2013
Durham, N.C. — North Carolina Central head basketball coach LeVelle Moton has made plenty of friends during his basketball career, but it's a young woman he met off the court who inspires him the more than most.
While the minutes before a college basketball game are reserved for the most important items on a coach's to-do list, Leah Ward shoots to the top of Moton's pregame priorities when she visits an NC Central game.
Ward is 33 years old and suffers from Williams Syndrome, a rare condition that affects her development. She missed out on many things growing up - like the prom. That's where the friendship between Moton and Ward begins.
The Eagles coach escorted Ward to the "Dance Like No One Is Watching" gala last year in Raleigh. The event serves as a make-up prom of sorts for adults with disabilities.
"One of the things we don't talk a lot about is the prom,” Moton said. “We've developed a great friendship. It's a trusting friendship"
The unlikely friends have a standing appointment to talk on the phone every Sunday. When Ward is feeling up to it, she can be found in the stands at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium cheering for her favorite coach
"I love the team, I love the coach and I love that I can come here and watch the game,” Ward said. “It's really cool."
Ward isn't shy with her enthusiasm for the Eagles and Moton has even called on her to deliver the pregame speech before games.
"Do your best out there. Have fun and I know the game will be good,” Ward said to the 17-8 Eagles before a conference game earlier this season.
Her motivations have apparently stuck as NC Central is second in the MEAC with just five games to play before the conference tournament.
"For her to come in here with a smile on her face, in her circumstance, it lets them know whatever pressure you are going through in this game of basketball, let it go," Moton said. “They are kids and often times when you are 18 or 22 years old, you don’t understand your blessing.”
Ward and Moton’s relationship continues to serve as a reminder to the team that it is always okay to take time for a friend.