For those of you who don’t know this story, it is inspired reading from Sunday’s [URL=http://www.starnewsonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061112/NEWS/61112002][B]Wilmington Star-News[/B][/URL]…
[B][SIZE=5]Heart of a winner[/SIZE]
UNCW’s new basketball coach drew strength from his father’s battle for survival[/B]
[I]By Brian Mull, Staff Writer[/I]
The story begins in a country home tucked in the eastern edge of rural Surry County. Mother’s cookies bake in the oven, a sweet warmth fills the air.
Outside, a boy dribbles a basketball on the concrete. His father lies inside and fights for his life. Each draws inspiration from the other.
A ball bounces. A heart beats.
That boy is grown up now. Benny Moss worked 13 seasons as an assistant basketball coach at colleges across the Southeast United States. He watched game videos, recruited players and plotted strategy, working toward a goal of one day running his own program.
His opportunity arrived April 20. UNC Wilmington, a university with a winning tradition, hired Moss to be its seventh basketball coach.
All first-year coaches face challenges, and Moss found plenty waiting when he arrived.
He replaced a popular coach, Brad Brownell – forced out, some felt, after leading the Sea-hawks to two Colonial Athletic Association titles in four seasons. Brownell’s departure fractured the fan base, and Moss has had to reassemble those pieces.
He inherited only eight scholarship players, and two of them haven’t seen much action thus far. One, UNCW’s leading returning scorer, could miss the entire season with an injury. The other definitely will miss the season; he chose to leave the program earlier this week.
A difficult schedule awaits.
But Moss believes everything will work out fine. He always has. He believes that life takes its course for a reason. He believed that when injuries ended his playing days. He believed that when his coaching career drove him to tiny towns in the middle of nothing, a thousand miles from home. Sure, he found it difficult to watch peers become head coaches before he got the chance. But he did not question the chain of events. He persevered.
Just like his father.
‘I can never be dealt anything as harsh,’ Moss said. ‘I’ve lived a miracle. I’ve seen it every day.’
Don Moss nearly lost his life in January 1980 in a horrible auto accident on the side of U.S. 52, between Winston-Salem and Pilot Mountain. He survived, but just barely. He remained in a coma for four months. The doctors told his wife, Janie, it was time to end his life, he wasn’t coming out. But she refused; she just kept praying. She continued working full time as an accountant at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem to support the family. She told her sons, Benny, 9, and Lee, 13, not to ask why such a terrible thing had happened to their dad.
Doctors didn’t allow the boys to see their dad for weeks, afraid the tubes and wires and machines hooked up to him would scare them.
‘There were a lot of prayers, a lot of Bible readings, a lot of church friends that helped us through it,’ Moss said. ‘I was lucky to have good friends and parents of my friends, Little League coaches, (best friend) Chris Smith’s dad, Larry Smith. When dad couldn’t be there, I had five or six surrogate dads. Once a month, our pastor would come get me and my brother and take us fishing on the weekend.’
Doctors told Janie that Don would never talk again, but months later she walked in to his room and he was talking. They told her Don would never walk again either, but he climbed out of bed and started to try.
[B]A player is born, a father recovers[/B]
Benny shot baskets outside, left-handed and right-handed, layups and jump shots, imitating his favorite players – Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks – on the 1978 Duke team that advanced to the NCAA title game.
He used moves honed at the end of the narrow, curvy, tree-lined driveway to score 30 points some nights at the Reeves Community Center in Mount Airy.
‘We cleaned everybody’s clock,’ his youth coach, Ernie Frazier, said. ‘He wasn’t muscular. He didn’t weigh 80 pounds, but he was savvy. We won the championship three years in a row, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.’
Moss’ eighth grade coach, Richard Hauser, pulled him aside at the end of a championship season. His teammates had traded their sneakers for cleats and dusted off their baseball gloves and Moss was prepared to follow suit. But Hauser had other ideas. He handed Moss the keys to the gym, told him to concentrate on basketball, that good things lay ahead.
Benny banked shots and made sure his dad did daily physical therapy. Even when it was painful and especially when he was tired. Benny coached his dad through the tough parts.
Don looked forward to his son’s basketball games on cold, dark winter nights. With his wife at work and his sons at school or playing sports afterward, he was stuck in the house each day – all day – by himself. Those games offered respite from monotony.
Benny entered Mike Burge’s program at East Surry High School as a skilled 5-foot-11 guard and departed as a versatile 6-8 forward who could bring the ball up court, dunk and drain 22-foot jumpers. College coaches courted him and ate plates of mom’s cookies. Moss finished three varsity seasons with 1,654 points, enough to set a school scoring record that still stands.
An ankle injury forced Moss to miss the early part of his senior season. In the first game after Christmas, Burge figured he would use pre-game warm ups to judge if his star player was ready to play. Moss scored 28 points that night.
‘He was a leader by example; it came natural to him,’ said Burge, semi-retired and living in South Carolina. ‘The kids knew how hard he worked. He always had a good rapport with people.’
Don Moss walked into the gymnasium at East Surry one night to watch his boy blister the nets. Man, he even started driving an automobile again, though at first he had to sneak the keys so he could practice alone on a dead-end road.
‘Don Moss is a man of principles and an amazing story around here,’ Frazier said. ‘He instilled that in Benny. There is nothing fabricated about him.’
[B]From Player to Coach[/B]
Benny Moss accepted a full scholarship to UNC-Charlotte and made the Sun Belt Conference all-freshman team before injuries sidetracked him.
A few hours short of completing his business degree, and receiving few minutes on the court, Moss decided to finish his career at Pfeiffer. He played two seasons for coach Bobby Lutz, helping the Falcons advance to the NAIA Final Four.
Moss pursued a Masters in Business Administration in his final year of eligibility. He was slated to play in a pro league in Luxembourg when he blew out his knee on a dunk attempt during a pickup game at Pfeiffer’s summer camp.
Moss agreed to help Lutz as a graduate assistant while finishing his MBA work. He intended to follow his playing dream but fell in love with coaching instead.
He spent three seasons on the Pfeiffer sidelines, then two seasons each at Phillips University in Oklahoma and Henderson State in Arkansas. Moss reunited with Lutz for the 2000-01 season at Charlotte and spent six seasons there. He credits Lutz for letting him experience everything a head coach does – recruiting, scheduling, even public speaking engagements.
Lutz knows who to credit for Moss’ success.
‘His dad is a remarkable story, and so is his mom,’ Lutz said. ‘The way she dealt with the situation, he drew from her, too. He got it natural, he’s lucky to come from a great community and a great family.’
Don Moss has volunteered nearly 40,000 hours of his life at Baptist Hospital, recognized by the governor as a state record. He’s overcome amazing odds and been honored by the state for giving back, but what he’s most proud of are his son’s work ethic, faith and family values.
He’ll walk into Trask Coliseum later this month for UNCW’s home opener against Colorado and it will be easy to find him: A smiling, walking miracle with a story to tell.
An 8-year-old boy dribbles a ball in the corner of Trask Coliseum. His father, who towers over all but the tallest of his players, stands half a court length away. He teaches them to fight through screens. He teaches them to fight for rebounds. There are 10 players on the court, barely enough for a scrimmage, but the glass the coach sees for this season remains half full. He encourages each player through the tough parts, especially when they are tired. The ball bounces. He coaches. His son watches.