April 17, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - A long bus ride on a road trip in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is Mike Moses Jr.'s kryptonite. It's only at 65 miles an hour on an open interstate that he can slow down.
The gentle hum of the road, even with a book in his lap and the consistent mounting pressure as he continues his graduate school work, is often too much for the 27-year-old assistant coach at Fayetteville State. One moment, he's reading about sports administration. The next moment, it's all black - until the tap on his shoulder.
"Coach (Alphonza) Kee will see me sleeping on the bus - it gets me every time if it's a long trip - and he'll just tell me to hang in there, that I'll be all right and that I'll make it," says Moses. "It helps to hear that, I can tell you that much."
Moses hears a lot of encouragement from a lot of difference sources. It could be from his dad, Mike Moses Sr., a former All-Big East guard at St. John's who coached around the country at several high-major Division-1 schools. It could be from his kindergarten students at Fayetteville's Trinity Christian School. Or it may come from Broncos head coach Alphonza Kee, who brought on an ambitious Moses when Kee took the head coaching job at his alma mater in 2009.
"I was a grad assistant, yes," quips Moses. "And a manager, and a ... well, anything he needed me to be."
Moses will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He wants to coach basketball at the collegiate level, and has even gone so far as to interview for a position with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. He has the necessary pedigree to break into the business - he's been a Division-II standout guard at Fayetteville State and is the son of a well-known coach and player. (Mike Moses Sr. teamed with Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin on the 1985 St. John's team that reached the Final Four.)
But Moses understands that the road to his dream is long and arduous. He knows because he's been on that road for a while now.
On this road, though, there is no time for naps.
Yes, Mike Moses wants to coach. Be he's raising a family, too. There are needs beyond the darkened film room, where hours can fly by like seconds, and if you're not careful, years melt away while the family moves on without you.
He wakes each day before 7 a.m. Moses has to be at Trinity Christian School by 7:30 to teach his kindergarten class until 11 a.m.
He then has meetings with the Fayetteville State coaching staff as soon as he can arrive on campus. Meetings begin at 11 a.m. in Kee's upstairs office at Felton J. Capel Arena, the same building where Kee and Moses each played, almost a decade apart.
"I get to those meetings at 11:07, usually," Moses says. "But Coach Kee allows me to catch up."
After that, it's desk work for Moses two floors down in a cramped half-window office he shares with another coach. Here he can work on his recruiting notes, his practice notes, watch some game film on the outdated television parked in a corner and prepare for workouts with Broncos' players. Moses works with the Broncos' guards, many of whom have enjoyed significant improvement after a year under Moses' tutelage.
A few hours of that, and Moses makes the mad dash by to Trinity Christian. Moses also serves as mentor as the school's T.R.A.C.K.S program (Together Reaching All Community Kids Successfully). He interacts with and tutors fourth- and fifth-graders who are deemed at-risk students, usually from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday.
"All of my kids mean so much to me, from our players to my kindergarteners to those older kids after school," Moses says. "I feel like I can be somebody for them to look up to. A lot of them come from hard lives, but they can see me, dressed in a tie every day, working hard, still in school, and hopefully take something away from that. I know so many kids haven't been as blessed as me."
After that, the Broncos typically hold practice during the season. After practice (or workouts in the offseason), Moses finally returns home, but then it's time for his own schoolwork. Moses is on track to receive his Master's degree from Fayetteville State in Sports Administration in December, but the work normally keeps him busy until around midnight.
It's only then he can begin to wind down.
"I go to bed every night around 2 or 3 a.m.," he says. "Then I start it all over again."
It's a tough road each day, but it's only a sidestreet at this point for Moses. The fast lane is off in the distance somewhere.
Mike Moses gets it. He understands the sacrifice. And he knows he has it pretty good. He credits his family for helping him stay on track. He knows without their help at home, none of what he's trying to accomplish is possible.
And he also understands that it's not so bad. He's not working the night shift as a security guard anymore ("That was midnight to 6 a.m.," Moses says. "Now that was tough."), using his Education degree from Fayetteville State to land the teaching job at Trinity Christian.
But he does want more. Kee and others get that. They've all been where Moses is today.
"I talk to my dad every day, and he is my everything," Moses says. "I know that what I'm going through, every other coach has gone through. The coaches I see on TV, around me, everywhere, they've all been where I am right now."
It's a keen understanding for the younger Moses as he tries to climb the basketball ladder. A Division-1 recruit out of high school in Detroit, Moses went the junior college route before planning a jump to a historically black college. He visited several schools in the CIAA, including Bowie State and Elizabeth City State, but settled on Fayetteville State in 2005 because of Capel Arena's atmosphere and his comfort with the coaching staff.
Upon arrival, Moses ran into a serious blast from the past - an old elementary school friend from his days growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Jamel Austin was a standout guard for the Broncos, starting 69 of 70 games in two years, but remembered Moses from the fourth grade.
"It was like, `Mel?' And he was like, `Moses?' It picked up from there," laughs Moses today.
Did it ever. Perhaps foreshadowing Moses' future work ethic, Austin and Moses quickly found they each enjoyed training themselves and other players almost as much as they did playing basketball. It started as helping out teammates by formulating drills and running through those drills with the players. Then they starting moving to Fayetteville State's Lilly Gymnasium, where Austin and Moses would work out would-be walk-ons ahead of tryouts, or kids just wanting to be better in intramurals.
Soon, Austin developed workouts for women. Together, he and Moses started Above Average Training, a group that Austin has since developed into a side business. Austin has returned to his native New York and has begun seriously training professional and collegiate basketball players, though he and Moses still communicate each day.
"He wanted to go the training route, and I want to go into coaching," says Moses. "We feel like we could split apart, but still come together again in the future. He handles the training, and I handle the coaching."
It's all part of the same dream.
In reality, this is all just the beginning. Sure, it's been a winding road already, and life on the road has proven to be a grind at times. But when a lengthy bus ride proves to be comforting, that's a good sign that Moses has chosen the right path for him.
Where the road leads now is anyone's guess. There will be turns. There will be bumps. Forks in the road will force difficult decisions. The road is jammed with up-and-comers, hard workers and down-and-outs. They're all there, riding shotgun with each other.
Moses has chosen to stay the course, no matter what life throws at him. He'll just keep grinding away, bypassing each exit and rest stop along the way.