"Ain't got no ticket, man," Bozeman would reply, gunning the engine of his ambition.
By 1991 he had lit out for Berkeley, which sits hard by Oakland, then home to point guard Jason Kidd, the most prized recruit in the high school class of '92. Kidd announced at the end of his junior year that he had eliminated the Bears from consideration, and the rest of the Cal coaches gave up on him. But Bozeman persisted. When Kidd chose the Bears during the early-signing period that fall, no one was more shocked than Bozeman's boss, Campanelli.
Kidd was the centerpiece of a preternaturally talented but tenderfoot 1992-93 Cal team. On Jan. 24 the Bears drubbed UCLA by 22 points in Pauley Pavilion. But they also lost to lightweights like Cornell, and the temperamental Campanelli would lash out angrily at his team, which included nine under-classmen from two straight top-10-rated recruiting classes. By midseason, his players had quietly complained to administrators about Campanelli's ranting, and the athletic department was finding his behavior a source of embarrassment.
Cal's record stood at 10-6 after a loss at Arizona State in early February. Stevie Johnson, a former Bears forward now playing professionally in France, says that Bozeman summoned him to his hotel room on the morning of the team's next game, against Arizona in Tucson on Feb. 7, and told him that a coaching change might be in the offing. Johnson says Bozeman wanted to sound him out to see if he would be in his corner if Cal vice chancellor Dan Boggan, who had responsibility for the athletic department, were to ask Johnson his feelings about a coaching change. "[Bozeman] said, 'Tell [Boggan] you'd like me to be the new coach, but don't tell him I asked you,' " Johnson says. "And he asked me, if he became head coach, who on the team would like it."
Bozeman says Johnson's account is fiction, the delusions of a bad actor who holds a grudge against him because Bozeman dismissed Johnson from the team the following November for disciplinary reasons. Bozeman insists he had no clue that Campanelli's job was in jeopardy. But Cal lost that game to Arizona, and Campanelli tore into his players again, this time within earshot of athletic director Bob Bockrath. Campanelli was fired the following afternoon. Though Bozeman was only 29 and had never been a head coach at any level, he was named to replace Campanelli on an interim basis.
The Bears went on to win nine of their final 10 games, reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and in the process did what no team had been able to do since 1987: deny Duke a spot in the Final Four. Bozeman was rewarded with a three-year contract.
From there Bozeman simply hurtled faster forward. If there was a player to be procured, he was there, in the hunt. He knew that Jelani Gardner, the 1993-94 California high school player of the year, had a healthy ego. So he played to it, telling Gardner that he was a natural to assume the mantle of Kidd, who had announced that he was entering the NBA draft after only two years at Cal. A year later the grapevine had Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a devout young man from a Muslim family in Marietta, Ga., and a top-five recruit nationally, as a lock for Georgia Tech or some nearby ACC blue blood like Duke or North Carolina. But Bozeman had done his homework. He knew to leave his shoes outside the door when he visited Shareef's home, knew how to greet his mother (because Islam forbids shaking a woman's hand), knew he could sell the family on Berkeley as a haven of multiculturalism where Shareef could practice his religion unself-consciously. (The NCAA deemed it only a minor violation that a Muslim graduate student at Berkeley, using a ticket purchased by Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, arranged for Abdur-Rahim to visit the campus even though, as a recruited athlete who hadn't yet qualified academically, he wouldn't have been eligible to visit at school expense.) Soon Bozeman became known as Coach Lottery, the man who had produced three jackpot winners in four years: Kidd (taken No. 2 by the Dallas Mavericks), forward Lamond Murray (the seventh selection in the '94 draft, by the Los Angeles Clippers) and Abdur-Rahim (the Vancouver Grizzlies' top pick last year, at No. 3).
While recruiting, Bozeman played the high school kids' peer, but coaching them was another matter. "A lot of guys wanted him to remain like when he recruited them," says sixth-year senior Alfred Grigsby, Bozeman's first big-time signee at Cal. "They wanted buddy-buddy, but Coach had a job to do."
After the 1994-95 season, forward Tremaine Fowlkes, who had played 26 minutes a game as a freshman, wanted Bozeman to guarantee in writing that he would play 35 minutes and have five plays run for him every game. His classmate Gardner, who had averaged 27 minutes, also demanded 35. Bozeman refused to be pinned down. The talent kept rolling in, but it seemed to do so with no regard for how each piece might fit. Last Thursday a reporter remarked to Bozeman that he seemed to be taking the loss of his job with surprising calm. "People have no idea [what it was like]," Bozeman said, after detailing the welter of parents, teenagers and third parties with whom he had to deal. "That's why I'm not tripping."
At the very least, Bozeman might be fazed by what Tom Gardner has told the NCAA. Jelani had indeed started at point guard in the second half of his freshman season. But the Gardners were concerned that Bozeman was recruiting another point guard, Prentice McGruder, a junior college transfer who ultimately would cut into Jelani's playing time, just as Jelani had been brought in over incumbent K.J. Roberts, who wound up transferring to UC Riverside. And there was, Tom says, a problem about the money—the failure of Bozeman to deliver the full $15,000 he had allegedly promised.