Lawrence Moten is tantalized by the query. Would the new coach of the Rochester RazorSharks consider being a player-coach this season even though he's 41 years old and a few years removed from making a living dribbling and shooting a basketball?
"That's a tough question," Moten says, smiling. "It's a tough question, because my palms are still sweating."
His hands perspired before every game he played during a distinguished career that saw him become the all-time leading scorer in Syracuse University hoops history, then spend three seasons in the NBA and 10 more in Spain, Greece and Venezuela before returning to teach physical education and coach middle-school girls basketball in his native Washington, D.C.
"I don't see myself as being a player anymore," he continues. "But I'm not writing it off completely."
Trim and fit, the 6-foot-5 Moten looks as if he could still fill it up from beyond the 3-point arc or slither past defenders for easy baskets. There probably would be a slight curiosity spike in attendance at RazorSharks games if the former Orange All-American were still on the court. But it appears the man known for his trademark knee-high socks and "Poetry in Moten" nickname is content to begin his next journey in a place he refers to as his second home.
He is quite familiar with Rochester. One of his SU teammates and best friends, John Wallace, earned scholastic All-American honors while playing for Greece Athena High School. "John likes to say that Rochester is only 35 minutes from Syracuse," Moten jokes. "It's about an hour for the rest of us. John obviously knows a quicker route than everybody else."
Moten also is aware of the RazorSharks' success in the Premier Basketball League, because he played some games against them during his hoops odyssey.
Team owner Sev Hrywnak chose Moten from a pool of 17 applicants that included two former NBA assistants and two coaches with Division I experience. Moten's dedication to youth outreach programs factored into his hiring because they are a big part of the RazorSharks mission. He gladly will lead such initiatives because he benefited from similar programs while growing up in a D.C. neighborhood ravaged by drugs and violence.
Moten earned All-City honors in both basketball and football at Archbishop Carroll High School and was named the District of Columbia's defensive player of the year after making 13 interceptions as a safety in his senior season. There actually were as many schools interested in him as a football player. Despite encouragement from many, including his high school teammate, Marvin Graves, who went on to break numerous passing records at SU, Moten opted to stick with basketball.
"I considered trying to play both, but it was going to be too tough academically, and basketball was my first love," he says. "I think I made the right choice, because you don't see any 6-foot-5 safeties out there."
Moten received the final scholarship offered by Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim in 1991 and was considered an afterthought in that blue-chip recruiting class. But it didn't take long for the soft-spoken, loud-playing Moten to change perceptions. Boeheim quickly discovered a player who knew the score as well as how to score.
"He may not have been as athletically gifted as many of our players, but he had a great basketball IQ," says Boeheim, the second-winningest coach in men's college basketball history. "He was tremendous at being a step ahead of the action. He beat you with his brain and his instincts, and he often did it quietly."
Moten wound up scoring 2,334 points in his four-year Syracuse career. Selected in the second round of the 1995 NBA draft, he spent three seasons with the Vancouver Grizzlies, averaging 6.3 points a game. During the next 19 years, he played professionally abroad as well as in several minor leagues in the States, but he never made it back to the NBA.
A few years ago, he coached a semi-pro team in Maryland, posting a 45-15 won-lost record. He learned about the RazorSharks job opening about a month ago and decided to apply. "We had two interviews, and they both went great," Hrywnak says. "It wasn't a difficult decision at all."
Greatly influenced by Boeheim, whom he calls "a second father," Moten will run an up-tempo offense and will attempt to force the issue with a full-court pressing defense. He occasionally may even employ Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone. "I like the zone because it can hypnotize you into thinking you can make the shot, and by the end of the game you realize you went one-for-12 and your team lost," he says.
Moten also will attempt to teach what he saw as a player. "I was an anticipator," he says. "I would visualize coming off a screen and hitting the shot. You visualize things like that before they happen, and they will."
Moten still bleeds Orange. He remains true to his school and it to him. A date hasn't been set, but he will return to the Carrier Dome this winter when his number is retired.
"That definitely will be a glorious moment," he says. "From being the last guy offered a scholarship to having your jersey retired, it's been quite a journey."
And it's far from over. Moten's aspirations are similar to his players'. He hopes to make it back to the NBA, this time as a coach, scout or member of the front office. He realizes his upward mobility would be enhanced by fielding a title team in Rochester.
"Championships look good on resumes," he says. "They're good to have, regardless if you are a player or a coach."
Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak's 16th book, a collaboration with rock 'n' roll legend Lou Gramm titled "Juke Box Hero," is available at amazon.com and in bookstores. He provides analysis following Bills games on WROC-TV and is a correspondent for USA Today SportsWeekly.
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